“Actually, I won everything,” Donald Trump said this week, after his victory in South Carolina and before his rout in Nevada. “I won short people, tall people. I won fat people, skinny people. I won highly educated, okay educated, and practically not educated at all. I won the evangelicals big and I won the military.”
The Republican presidential frontrunner was, broadly speaking, correct. After his third consecutive victory, one that puts him on course to win the Republican nomination for the White House, it is less useful to ask who is voting for him than who isn’t.
The only state he didn’t win was Iowa, where he came second.
In New Hampshire; South Carolina; and, on Tuesday, Nevada , Trump did not just win resoundingly by leveraging one or two types of conservative voter. Entrance polls reveal he triumphed by drawing on a pool of voters as wide as it was deep.
Who are Trump supporters? Insofar as the Republican electorate goes, the answer, for the moment at least, seems to be everyone.
But that statement masks a more nuanced analysis of Trump voters, their motivation, and their potential to reshape the broader American political map.
As Trump gloated at his Las Vegas rally on Monday, Vivian Ulrich, 82, was watching from a balcony, where she had parked her mobility scooter. On the surface, she was an archetypical older, white Trump voter. Yet she also belied the stereotype.
She and her husband, Harold (81) both independents, talked mostly of the rapid pace of change in Blooming Prairie, a small town in Minnesota where, they said, the Mexican population who first came to work in the town’s agricultural canning factories in the 1960s have carved out their own community.
“They just came in and made their separate group,” said Harold, a former independent mayor of the town.
The couple had concerns about African Americans, who they both said were more inclined to be welfare recipients. They also fear authority seeping away from police amid the surge of complaints about police shootings.
Harold misquoted a statistic about the proportion of black women who are single. Vivian said she felt social fabric began to decline when “ that Rodney King thing happened”.
But their thoughts on race and immigration did not end there.
Harold spoke admiringly of one of the original Blooming Prairie Mexicans, Jessie Hernandez, who he said “married a white gal” and worked harder than anyone else in the town. And Vivian revealed that in 2008 she voted for Barack Obama.
Her explanation was the relationship she struck with a black woman who came to work with her at the University of Minnesota in 1952.
“Her name was Nellie Jones and she was one of the nicest people I’ve known,” she said, recalling how she invited her friend to their wedding, in 1956, though she didn’t come. Jones told Vivian years later that she felt a black face at a white wedding would have been an embarrassment for the couple.
“I think, psychologically, I must have thought: ‘Give him [Obama] a chance, ’cause he’s black,” she said, which was, perhaps, another way of saying that her memory of the discrimination suffered by her friend changed the way she thought of race in America, and the suitability of a black man in the White House. Still, it was a vote Vivian now regrets. “He destroyed America,” she said.
What attracted the couple to Trump? The Ulrichs responded with the usual list of factors that supporters so often cite when asked this question by reporters.
He is funding his own campaign, so is beholden to no one. He speaks his mind, free from the the constraints of political correctness. He is tough, promising a bellicose presidency in an era when Americans fear terrorism.
And he is a successful businessman, who will do for America what he has done for his own sprawling property empire.
These are vague attributes, but they go a long way to explaining the frontrunner’s broad appeal.
So, too, does the celebrity appeal of a candidate best known before the race started as the host of the reality TV show The Apprentice. Trump astutely amplified spats, such as his recent altercation with the pope , ensuring his name remains on news broadcasts and Facebook feeds.
The soap opera of his repeated confrontations with Fox News, once considered the gatekeeper to Republican presidential success, is a case in point. It turns out many GOP viewers put Fox News in the same box as the Wall Street and the Washington political establishment. They’re all the elite, and Trump and his army are the outsiders.
“Fox News is just another part of the Republican establishment,” said Tom Hartnick, a 57-year-old former delivery driver who lost his job during the economic crisis, which hit Nevada worse than almost any other state.
“Frankly, I couldn’t tell you what Cruz’s or Rubio’s policies are. I don’t know if they would be good or bad for the country. I don’t know enough to know. But I do know that if Fox News is treating them with kid gloves then they’re not calling their own shots. They’re serving someone else. I believe Trump is the only one who will serve the American people.”
Experts will quibble with the fine print of entrance polls, such as this one from CNN, that slice and dice the electorate by dozens of demographic groups.
In Nevada, Rubio, who came second, won the (small) demographic of 17-29-year-olds, as well as those who told pollsters the next president should be experienced and those who said their priority was supporting a candidate who can win in 2016.
Cruz, who came third, won over more voters who said their top quality in a candidate was someone who shared their values.
However, Trump triumphed in every other category: men and women; voters who identified as conservative, somewhat conservative, and moderate; evangelicals of every type; every educational category; every income bracket.
Trump won the the crucial segment of those who said they were either dissatisfied or angry about the federal government – a remarkable 94% of the GOP electorate in Nevada. And perhaps most surprisingly, he won 45% of Latinos (although that is a figure based on a very small sample).
But just because Trump won in all these categories – a fact that speaks to his landslide win – that does not mean his voters are not a certain type.
Analysis of recent polling and elections survey data indicates that while his base his broad, its members tend, overall, to be older, whiter, poorer, less conservative, less-well educated and, going by past voting records, less likely to turn out than supporters of rival candidates. Many have spent their lives on the fringes of politics.
One of the most sophisticated analyses of Trump’s base of supporters, conducted by Civis Analytics and published by the New York Times in December , noted that he draws strong support from self-identified Republicans who are nonetheless registered as Democrats.
That much is proven on the campaign trail, where so many Trump supporters say they are not diehard Republicans, but more often drawn into the political process from the fringe, many talking about a once-in-a-lifetime dalliances with a candidate.
“I’ve seen Democrats and non-partisans and Republicans change completely their support for Donald Trump, and I think it’s because people are saying we’re just tired of Washington,” said Hillary Schieve, the independent mayor of Reno, Nevada.
“That’s why I think that he tends to resonate with people all over the board.”
At the Sun City Summerlin’s Mountain Shadows community center, in Las Vegas, where ten precincts caucused Tuesday night, Karen Weiss said she was registered as an independent when she renewed her driver’s license last year.
Eight months on, Weiss, 64, was now not just voting Republican, but working as a caucus volunteer, helping distribute and count the ballots.
“I switched it to Republican because of Trump,” she said of a candidate she added reminded her of Ronald Reagan. “He’s not your typical politician. He motivated the fun and excitement.”
Two hours later, Trump was onstage at his Nevada victory party, doing just that with one of his entertaining, publicity-inducing speeches.
It was, however, one of the least reported lines from the Republican presidential frontrunner’s victory speech that best summed up the hopes of his supporters.
“We’re gonna be the smart people,” he told them. “We’re not going to be the people that get pushed around all the time.”