Trump sup­port­ers the ex­cep­tion

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - PERSPECTIVE -

De­spite po­lit­i­cal rhetoric that places them at op­po­site ends of the spec­trum, Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic vot­ers ap­pear to be sim­i­larly com­pas­sion­ate.

Democrats view com­pas­sion as a po­lit­i­cal value while Repub­li­cans will in­te­grate com­pas­sion into their pol­i­tics when their lead­ers make it part of an ex­plicit mes­sage.

There is a caveat to this: I asked these sur­vey ques­tions about per­sonal feel­ings of com­pas­sion in a 2016 on­line sur­vey that also asked about choice of pres­i­dent.

The sur­vey was con­ducted a few days af­ter Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial pri­mary can­di­dates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Ka­sich of Ohio had dropped out of the race, mak­ing Don­ald Trump the only vi­able Repub­li­can can­di­date for the nom­i­na­tion.

In their re­sponses to the sur­vey, a large per­cent­age of Repub­li­can vot­ers said they would rather vote for some­one other than Trump, even though he was the un­of­fi­cial nom­i­nee at that point.

The Repub­li­can vot­ers who didn’t sup­port Trump were sim­i­lar to Democrats on the sur­vey with re­spect to their an­swers about com­pas­sion. Their av­er­age scores on the com­pas­sion items were the same. This is in line with the other sur­vey data show­ing that lib­er­als and con­ser­va­tives, and Repub­li­cans and Democrats, are largely sim­i­lar in these per­son­al­ity mea­sures of com­pas­sion.

But Trump sup­port­ers’ an­swers were not in line with these find­ings.

In­stead, their av­er­age re­sponses to the broad com­pas­sion ques­tions were sig­nif­i­cantly lower. These an­swers showed that Trump sup­port­ers were lower in per­sonal com­pas­sion.

While a lot of the Repub­li­can vot­ers in the sam­ple may well have gone on to sup­port Trump in the gen­eral elec­tion, the sur­vey re­spon­dents who were early adopters of can­di­date Trump might con­tinue to be his most stead­fast sup­port­ers to­day.

We know that pub­lic of­fi­cials’ rhetoric can in­flu­ence pub­lic opin­ion on po­lit­i­cal is­sues. This leads to an­other im­por­tant ques­tion: Can po­lit­i­cal mes­sages in­flu­ence how much peo­ple value com­pas­sion more gen­er­ally? Or even how com­pas­sion­ate peo­ple con­sider them­selves to be?

The re­search in­di­cates that ap­peals to com­pas­sion — if made by trusted lead­ers — should work for vot­ers of both par­ties.

But it also in­di­cates that if such mes­sages are ab­sent, com­pas­sion is less likely to be seen as im­por­tant in pol­i­tics and the po­si­tions peo­ple and par­ties take.

The Con­ver­sa­tion

Meri T. Long is a lec­turer on Amer­i­can pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh.

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