Assessing Attitudes in Trump's Texas Basket

Hillary Clinton’s riff in a speech to campaign contributors last week that “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables....The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it,” has invited mostly negative responses. Trump supporters pounced on it via social media, and the Trump campaign has pilloried Clinton for painting such a large group of Americans with a broad and unflattering brush. The first wave of response from the news media ranged from outright declaration of a mega-gaffe to often begrudging acceptance of Clinton’s subsequent mea culpa on the share of Trump supporters that belong in the basket. “I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea, she backtracked, “I regret saying ’half’—that was wrong.”

The initial negative judgment of Clinton’s characterization of Trump supporters gave way to relatively quick follow-ups -- by, among others, Charles Blow in The New York Times, Jamelle Bouie in Slate, and German Lopez in Vox -- pointing out that neither the fraction she used nor the attitudes she cited were wildly out of line with polling evidence. Nonetheless, the general sense that the comments were impolitic given the setting of their delivery, coupled with the fact that the odd language proved to be ripe for propagation as a meme, has meant that the story has been a negative one for her campaign.

In Texas, the June 2016 University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll asked a number of questions that might shed some light on the attitudes of Donald Trump’s supporters. First, we arrive at a working definition of “supporters”. One could simply look at all those who said that they were voting for Trump against Clinton in the November election, but this appears a broad brush to begin with given that 55 percent of those voters said that their vote was better understood as one against Hillary Clinton than one for Donald Trump. So it is among these voters affirmatively supporting Trump that we will focus.  Call them “affirmative Trump supporters.” (If you cut the data differently, say, among those with a favorable view of Trump, or those who say that they supported him in the Primary, or even those who say that they’re voting for him in the general election, it doesn’t significantly change these results).

Among these affirmative Trump supporters in Texas:

  • 41 percent say that whites face “a lot” of discrimination in the U.S. today
  • 14 percent say that that African Americans face "a lot" of discrimination
  • 12 percent say Hispanics face "a lot" of discrimination.
  • 20 percent say that men face a lot of discrimination in the U.S.
  • 10 percent say that women face a lot of discrimination in the U.S
  • 90 percent support a ban on immigration into the U.S. by Muslims
  • 88 percent agree with the statement: “Undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be deported immediately.”

Clinton is likely right to regret her generalizing use of various "-ism" labels joined to a big fraction - not to mention using an odd turn of phrase ready made for both news media headlines as well as social media - #BasketofDeplorables is only 20 characters, leaving plenty of room for comments and an image. Ironically, given the negative judgments of Clinton's comments as a campaign gaffe, it probably doesn’t help her campaign that, depending on how you want to operationalize Clinton’s rough labels, there are reasons to think that half is a conservative estimate of those who hold attitudes at least in the ballpark of Clinton's hyperbolic rhetoric.