Most political journalists and experts were surprised when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. One such journalist set out to understand the people and places that put Donald Trump in the White House. The project is called “Into Trump’s America.” It looks at nine key counties that are essential to understanding the Trump phenomenon. Today we speak to writer Daniel Allott. He and his twin brother, documentary filmmaker Jordan Allott, are the driving force behind the project.
It was clear, after the 2016 election, that very few journalists anticipated Trump’s rise or understood his appeal. Many of us seemed uninterested in understanding what motivated his voters. Many journalists and politicians wrote off his supporters as racists or backward or–in Hillary Clinton’s words–deplorable. And this didn’t reconcile with my view or my knowledge of Trump voters. I said we needed more journalists out in the country spending time in these places that have been, in some ways, forgotten. — Daniel Allott
Into Trump’s America
Could you explain what your project is about?
Daniel Allott: I’ve been traveling for two years among nine counties in nine different states throughout the country. They’re not all heavily Republican at all. In fact, five of the counties are Obama-Trump counties, so they voted for Obama twice and then they flipped to Donald Trump. Two of the counties are more traditionally Republican. Two of the counties, including Orange County, California, flipped the other way, voting for Hillary Clinton after voting for Mitt Romney in 2012. We have a core group of about a dozen people, one or two from many of the counties that we’re following over the course of three years. It’s sort of a longitudinal study so we can measure how these people’s lives and their views perhaps of the president and everything going on politically have changed over the course of Trump’s first term in office.
Trump the Lightning Rod
What have you discovered so far?
Daniel Allott: One thing is that very few people have changed their view of the president. I found that very few people have switched sides. If they supported President Trump on election day or inauguration day, they do still now; and if they didn’t, they don’t now as well. For most people, their views have become more tightly entrenched.
Why Do People Support–or Oppose–the President?
From your interviews with Trump supporters, could you summarize why they supported him in 2016 and why they still support him?
Daniel Allott: I think during the 2016 campaign, a very strong bond was forged between Trump and his supporters. A lot of them–not all–are conservatives, but some of them were former Democrats, some of them were apolitical, independent. The one thing they had in common was they felt forgotten.
They felt forgotten by both political parties, they felt dismissed by the media, mocked by the culture. Trump came along and said I see you there, I recognize you. Your work is important. With your help, we’re going to make America great again. Your values are important. That bond that he created is going to be very hard to break. — Daniel Allott
On the opposite side, for people who didn’t like Trump—and still don’t like Trump—what’s their main reason?
Daniel Allott: I think the character issue for Trump has put a lot of people off. Just the way he conducts his business. Putting aside the policies themselves, just the fact that he’s attacking people he doesn’t need to attack. Some say his White House is very chaotic and he’s not somebody who reads his briefings. Just the tales that you hear when people leave the administration, they don’t paint a very positive picture. I talk to people and they say, you know, when I go abroad, I’m embarrassed to tell people I’m an American because of who we’ve elected president. So I think, more than any of his policies, I think a lot of people do feel embarrassed to have somebody like Trump.
Trump’s Chances in 2020
Based on what you’ve learned, do you have any thoughts on the 2020 election?
Daniel Allott: I think Trump is going to be in a very good position to win again. I don’t know very many people who voted for him who say they won’t again. I think he’ll do quite well in the upper Midwest. I’m not sure which states he’s going to lose, which states that he won before. I think he’ll win Florida; I think he’ll win Wisconsin, Iowa; I think he could win Minnesota. A lot will depend on the economy, and obviously the economy is doing very well now. If it’s in the same position, I think he’s going to win. The other thing that it will hinge on is who are the Democrats nominating. I was struck a little bit by just how many people mentioned that they voted for Trump, not because they liked Trump, but because they didn’t want to vote for Hilary. So if the Democrats can nominate somebody who is a better candidate, and somebody who’s not too far to the Left, which will be a big challenge–perhaps somebody like a Joe Biden–then I think they’ll have a decent shot beating him.
Right now all the energy in the Democratic Party is on the very liberal, progressive wing. Any candidate who’s going to win the nomination might be forced to take a very, very left-wing position. So that will allow Trump to portray them as being socialist, which he’s already starting to do. And that, I think, will help him secure a second term. — Daniel Allott
Press play to listen to the whole interview. You can learn more about Daniel’s project at intotrumpsamerica.com. We’d also like to hear your thoughts on President Trump’s job so far. Have you changed your view of him since the 2016 election? Let us know in the comments below.