trump symposium iii: social science and trump
In this third installment of the Trump symposium, I want to talk about how social scientists should think about Trump. Let’s start with prediction – who foresaw Trump? We need to make a distinction.
- Some people, including myself, actually suggested years ago that we would have a populist take over of the Republican party. The argument was that a big chunk of the GOP electorate wants leaders to entertain them, which creates an opportunity for a Trump style candidate to emerge.
- Very few people thought that Trump would be the guy riding the populist wave. Indeed, I thought that Trump would go the way of Giuliani, Carson, Cain, Bachmann, and others who were a flash in the pan. Instead, I thought we’d see someone like Rick Santorum or Ted Cruz become the populist GOP president.
So what should a social scientist do?
- Start with the following mantra: Social science is about trends and averages, rarely about specific cases. If an outsider becomes a major party nominee once, then you can cling to the old theory. If you get three Trumps in a row, then it’s time to dump the Party Decides model, unless, of course, you see the party openly embrace Trump and he becomes the new establishment.
- Feel confident: One crazy case doesn’t mean that you dump all results. For example, polling still worked pretty well. Polls showed a Trump rise and, lo and behold, Trump won the nomination. Also, polls are in line with basic models of presidential elections where economic trends set the baseline. The economy is ok, which means the incumbent party has an advantage. Not surprisingly, polls show the Democratic nominee doing well.
- Special cases: Given that most things in this election are “normal,” it’s ok to make a special argument about an unusual event. Here, I’d say that Trump broke the “Party Decides” model because he is an exceptionally rare candidate who doesn’t need parties. Normally, political parties wield power because politicians don’t have money or name recognition. In contrast, Trump has tons of money and a great media presence. He is a rare candidate who can just bypass the whole system, especially when other candidates are weak.
What does the future hold? Some folks have been raising the alarms about a possible Trump win. So far, there is little data to back it up. In the rolling Real Clear Politics average of polls, Trump is consistently behind. In state polls, he is behind. He has no money. He has not deployed a “ground game.”In fact, the RCP average has had Clinton 2 ahead of Trump every single day since October with the exception of the GOP convention and about two of the worst days of the Democratic campaign. Is it possible that Trump will be rescued by a sudden wave of support from White voters? Maybe, but we haven’t seen any movement in this direction. A betting person would bet against Trump.