Tomorrow, Republican presidential primaries will be held in Ohio, and Florida. As states with large populations whose local Republican leaders have decided to hold winner-take all primaries, these blocs of delegates might secure current front runner Donald Trump a near guarantee on the nomination. Missouri, Illinois, and North Carolina will also hold primaries, and the Northern Mariana Islands will have their caucuses. Regardless of how well Trump monopolizes the delegates in tomorrow’s primaries and caucuses, the version of this map we will have Wednesday morning will be one of the most important images in the United States:
Counties won by Donald Trump in dark blue, won by Marco Rubio in red, won by Ted Cruz in yellow, won by John Kasich in green, won by Ben Carson in pale green.
Already before those votes are held, however, this map confirms a few suspicions many have had about this race – namely that Marco Rubio’s and John Kasich’s support comes from a tightly limited demographic, of the few upwardly mobile suburban parts of the country (what people often describe as the base for the Republican “Establishment”). Many analysts quickly bind together in contrast with that the vast rest of Republicans, divided up between Ted Cruz and Donald Trump supporters, as “anti-Establishment” or “the Base.” The map we have today subtly hints at the flaws in that though.
There is a lot of noise in who wins what counties in presidential primaries, but a curious pattern emerges in the disparate parts of the country Donald Trump wins pluralities within. He loses Topeka and Tulsa, but wins Detroit and Las Vegas. He wins the suburbs of Corpus Cristi and smattering of counties along the Texas-Mexico border but loses Houston from its exurbs to city center. He wins every county in New Hampshire but only one in Maine. This isn’t some trivial matter, as others have quietly pointed out time and again, he’s winning large numbers of his delegates from disproportionately weighted parts of the country where the Republican Party stands virtually no chance in the general. Ted Cruz tends to win where the base is the population, but Trump generally wins where it isn’t as dominant.
This cuts to the very core of a lot of the statistical studies that have been conducted in this primary – that Trump’s supporters are more characterized by an authoritarian response to perceived threats and that they are more likely to agree with statements of White racial resentment. Ted Cruz’s supporters, compared to the general population, probably have more in common with Trump supporters than the mean, but Trump leads with people who perceive the world as not just filled with inferiors opposed to them, but who have somehow gained the upper hand politically, socially, and economically.
One of the few comparisons of authoritarian and anti-elite tendencies among their supporters suggests exactly that distinction – Ted Cruz’s supporters may come across as more authoritarian than Donald Trump’s in part because they trust those in power more, while Donald Trump’s supporters second-place authoritarianism has been tempered by a fear that that wrong people are in power.
That’s why he so frequently works in references to the onerous burden of political correctness – he’s targeting the part of the Republican base that most frequently encounters people outside of it and suddenly finds itself on the defensive. It’s the faction of it that’s tired of not being able to dictate social expectations, and instead being expected to negotiate, or worse, listen. The type of Republicans who have those experiences, as opposed to living in more isolation from than conflict with other worldviews, tend to reside in more ethnically diverse parts of the country – in Detroit, in Las Vegas, along the Texas-Mexico border, and other places the Democrats tend to actually win.
Trump’s campaign has tapped into the fears of a specific part of the Republican base, which can deliver more people to the polls than the “Establishment” and often in places where their delegates carry the biggest impact. That is one of the stories on the 2016 election – how Donald Trump saw a winning electoral strategy distinct from the “Establishment” track or the typical approach of those rallying the “Base”, and then rode it into victory. The most important question tomorrow is whether Floridans and Ohioans will vote for Rubio’s and Kasich’s familiar faces or with what are likely common experiences they have in those purple states. In most of Texas, Cruz prevailed in the way they hope to, but he’s also not seen as aligned with the “Establishment” unlike either of them.
Illinois voters who are undoubtedly familiar with that same dynamic of living outside of the Red States. In addition, there’s no home town politician in the race to deflect attention from Trump. What little polling has been done in Illinois suggests that combined together that’s to Trump’s advantage. Wednesday morning we’ll have our answer about whether this dynamic of Trump wins among stealthier conservatives has continued, and whether it was a durable trend even in Rubio’s and Kasich’s backyards.