Donald Trump, painted portrait
A portrait of Donald Trump on a lawn sign. Photo credit: thierry ehrmann / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Huge rallies, lots of yard signs, and bumper stickers… It certainly looks as though Donald Trump is riding a wave of popular support. But looks can be deceiving, and we explain why.

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If elections were decided by rally attendees, yard signs, offensive bumper stickers, and other ostentatious trinkets indicating allegiance to a candidate, Donald Trump would win every one of them by a landslide. However, much to the chagrin of Republicans, who are doing their best to keep (some) voters out of elections altogether, that is not the case.

Still, based on these public displays of political affection, casual observers must think that Trump is the most popular politician there is, and they would likely be surprised to find out that the opposite is true.

So, why does it seem as though people are much more excited about Trump, and to a lesser degree other Republicans, than Democratic candidates?

And why can conservatives ruin a beer company over a “woke” marketing campaign while progressives can’t even muster a proper boycott of a video game based on the world created by someone they don’t like?

We call this phenomenon the “enthusiasm gap,” and it has different reasons.

Perhaps most importantly, Republicans have been conditioned to believe that they are engaged in an existential battle. That is the message they hear every day from their leaders, right-wing influencers, and media outlets from Fox “News” on rightwards.

As a result, they are convinced that someone is coming to get them. That can be brown people who want their jobs, socialists who want to brainwash their children, feds who want to take their guns, and Satanists who want to undermine their God.

All of this, by the way, is also a reason why it has been pretty easy for Trump to spread his Big Lie. The adherents to his cult may refer to themselves as the “silent majority,” but, in reality, they are a very loud minority. And it is a loud minority that exists in an enormous echo chamber, which means the noise they make gets amplified all the time.

And if you think that everything you care about is at stake, then you fight a little bit harder.

We actually see this on the left when Trump is on the ballot. In 2020, for example, Democrats believed that US democracy itself was at stake, which was a fair assumption as the subsequent coup attempt showed. As a result, they turned out in numbers so large that Republicans still can’t believe they lost.

How could millions more people have voted for Joe Biden, who is so old and boring and had no big rallies? And what about all those Trump lawn signs?

As it turns out, there is a wrinkle in US elections law that made this possible: Apparently, neither lawn signs nor bumper stickers get a vote. And it doesn’t matter how long you stand in line to watch your candidate ramble on for an hour, you get to cast just as many votes as someone who never attended any political rallies at all! If that seems unfair, take it up with the Founding Fathers.

Simply put, in 2020, Trump was the existential threat, and voters made sure that he would not get a second term. Then, in 2022, a “red wave” never materialized because the Supreme Court had made it clear with its abortion decision that Republicans were an existential threat to women and their rights.

Generally, however, the enthusiasm gap favors Republicans because their voters feel as though they are the ones defending their beautiful, white, Judeo-Christian nation and its values.

Then there is the issue of homogeneity. The GOP likes to believe that it is a “Big Tent” party. They are not — unless it is a big tent full of older, poorly educated white people. In other words, they are a pretty cohesive bloc.

That, together with the systematic brainwashing from a dedicated propaganda network, is one of the reasons why the MAGA movement seems a bit cultish. Another is that many of them, as evangelical Christians, have already experienced a lifetime of conditioning that works pretty much the same way, i.e., they are used to being told they have to do certain things or burn in hell.

Democratic voters, on the other hand, are much more of a loose coalition whose members often don’t like each other all that much. For example, super-progressive college students do not want the same things as 70-year-old Black women even though both are some of the most reliable Democratic voters.

That gives conservatives an edge when it comes to public displays of strength, such as boycotting companies.

Going back to the earlier examples: There aren’t many Republican demographics who will go to bat for a trans influencer. However, there are plenty of Democratic voters who don’t believe that author J.K. Rowling has said or done anything that warrants shunning a video game based on her Harry Potter universe.

In addition, when it comes to using their purchasing power, Republicans do a much better job of choosing their targets (or Targets, if they offer rainbow onesies).

To Republicans, Target Is the Devil’s Playground

For example, trying to get an offensive country song canceled is a fool’s errand for liberals. That was always going to backfire. That’s almost as though Republicans were trying to get the conductor of the San Francisco Philharmonic canceled for saying that Black people probably deserve reparations. It’s not going to work.

Furthermore, there is an entire right-wing outrage complex that is getting rich off these controversies.

Therefore, once a company has been found worthy of cancellation or adulation from the right, a media machine kicks into high gear that will inundate loyal followers with the message that it is their duty to purchase a racist country music song or to no longer buy a certain brand of beer.

As a result, if you’d survey the CEOs of major companies as to whether they’d rather be a target of the right or the left, they would probably always choose progressives. They may have more buying power, but they simply lack the zeal to go to war over beer.

All of this, by the way, is also a reason why it has been pretty easy for Trump to spread his Big Lie. The adherents to his cult may refer to themselves as the “silent majority,” but, in reality, they are a very loud minority. And it is a loud minority that exists in an enormous echo chamber, which means the noise they make gets amplified all the time.

And that is why it’s easy to see how, in an era in which people mainly interact with others who share their beliefs, it must look to conservatives as though their tribe is the largest.

However, that is not only false but also increasingly so. Demographic changes are not kind to a movement that relies on old white people.

For now, though, there are certainly still enough of them to put up lawn signs, fill arenas, boycott beers, and slap “Let’s go Brandon” stickers on their trucks in such large numbers that they can win the eye test, if not popular votes.

Obviously, all of these things are legal and most of the people of this loud minority are peaceful. Next week, we will look at those who aren’t. 

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