The AMC Network has been reshowing the Bruce Willis blockbuster Armageddon all week, seemingly on a loop. My wife, along with many of my friends, might find a lot of irony in that.
For the non-Trump-supporters who are old enough to remember it, tomorrow has the familiar feel of Y2K. For Trump’s supporters, tomorrow feels like a new beginning, full of unbridled optimism, with a side of gloating and defiance.
Regardless of which end of the spectrum you’re on, it feels like nobody is in the middle. I watch my Facebook feed every day with a mix of amazement and sadness. People have been pushed so far into their respective corners, that it becomes impossible for them to moderate their views on virtually anything.
If Donald Trump sent out a Tweet saying that the Earth is flat, I have friends who would jump to his defense, mocking the whole “Earth is Round” theory as a global conspiracy perpetrated by corrupt scientists and the media. If Trump nominated Jesus Christ himself to a cabinet position, I know people who would denounce their Christianity rather than give Trump any credit for it.
From a research standpoint, it’s hard to get underneath all of this to find out what people really think. But I figured I’d try.
Earlier this week, I launched two poll questions across America, asking people what they were most concerned and most optimistic about, respectively, heading into the Trump Presidency. The trick was that I didn’t give anyone a way out. There were no “Other” or “None” options, meaning Trump supporters had to acknowledge things they’re not thrilled about and Trump despisers had to acknowledge things they’re not dreading. I’m glad we made it through the research without reports of anyone’s head exploding.
Let’s start with the issues that most concern Americans about the upcoming Trump Administration (I realize these lists are far from exhaustive but they gave us a place to start):
While we see a lot of major differences here, let’s start with the similarities. It looks like respondents from both parties are relatively unconcerned about Trump’s potential business conflicts and his treatment of the press. But we see some significant differences at the top. By a large margin, Republicans are most concerned about Trump’s cavalier use of Twitter – I’ve heard this a lot from my own Republican friends who wish he would just stay off the platform. Democrats, on the other hand, are troubled most by Trump’s sympathetic views toward Russia and Vladimir Putin, an issue of highest concern among only 10% of Republicans. Trump’s mistrust of the U.S. Intelligence community comes in 2nd among both groups.
Now let’s look at the greatest areas of optimism (again among our finite list):
Both Democrats and Republicans are most optimistic about the prospects of job creation and economic growth during a Trump Administration. Democrats, however, are much more likely to be most optimistic (or least pessimistic) about Trump’s impact on crime and public safety, a selection that came in fourth among Republicans. Immigration reform ranks second among Republicans and fourth among Dems. Both groups seem to agree that improving international relations is the lowest area of potential good news over the next four (or eight) years.
Of course, invisible in questions like these are the degrees to which each group is concerned or optimistic about each issue. That wasn’t the point of this exercise. Surely, Democrats are MORE concerned, while Republicans are more optimistic, across the board.
None of this is to say that our country is any less divided right now than it appears. But there might be something to learn from these results. Mr. Trump, his policies, and his style are not equally adored by all Republicans or equally loathed by all Democrats. If you’re a Republican, perhaps there is hope that Trump can win over a few of his detractors with strong economic progress. If you’re a Democrat, perhaps there is hope that some Republicans will eventually get fed up with Trump’s Twitter tirades and migrate away.
Just don’t hold your breath.