If you’re not in the know, Donald Trump wants to “Make America great again.” This is his slogan and solemn vow to his legions of supporters — that he will return, to the people, a great America. It’s a tough promise to deliver on, but evidently the slogan and Trump’s no-nonsense demeanor on the campaign trail has struck a chord with millions of Americans.
Trump’s campaign has been one of the most divisive in recent memory, if not in all of American history. Trump himself is surrounded by a number of controversies, ranging from discrepancies in his proclaimed net worth to his scandalous Trump University venture, which has been found to be little more than a scam. But it’s his vision for a great, or greater America that has his supporters marching in step, despite all of his inflammatory rhetoric and campaign flubs.
Donald Trump and his vision
The genius underlying Trump’s slogan is that it — by design — lacks specifics. What exactly does “great” mean when he says it? It can mean any number of things to any number of people, which makes it perfect for a presidential campaign. It casts a wide net with which many people can relate. But the slogan being so unspecific is also one of its downfalls. A lot of people take it to mean that America is no longer “great,” and that some groups or individuals are being unfairly blamed for that fall from grace.
So, just what in the hell do Trump, and Trump supporters, mean when they say that they want to make America “great” again? CivicScience, a marketing data and intelligence company, set to find out. John Dick, CivicScience’s CEO, polled more than 2,100 Americans to get their take. The results are interesting, to say the least.
When we had a great America
“We started with a simple question, designed to identify the decade in the last eighty years when America was at its greatest,” Dick writes. These are the results he came away with:
The big winner? The 1950s — and it makes sense when you look at the demographics that make up Trump’s supporter base.
According to RealClearPolitics, here are the main groups supporting Trump:
Trump’s supporters are a bit older, less educated and earn less than the average Republican. Slightly over half are women. About half are between 45 and 64 years of age, with another 34 percent over 65 years old and less than 2 percent younger than 30. One half of his voters have a high school education or less, compared to 19 percent with a college or post-graduate degree.
So, a good number of Trump’s backers are older and white — people who remember the 1950s as a relatively “great” time of American prosperity in a post-World War II world. But, when did things go wrong, according to these respondents?
…And when we lost it
While the top answer, “It’s still great” is a bit surprising, “the 2000s” is the second-most popular answer among poll respondents. And it’s hard to argue that there have been some very large, tumultuous events over the past 16 years — September 11 and the Great Recession being the most obvious.
What makes America great?
The final question posed by CivicScience was this:
The top answers involve individual freedom, along with economic opportunity — two areas that most Americans have struggled with since the dawn of the millennium. The wake of 9/11 ushered in a new era of tight security and loss of individual freedoms and privacy behind legislation like the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, for example. And it’s clear that many Americans are struggling in the wake of the Great Recession.
If you were to measure America’s greatness by those two standards, then it’s not too hard to see why some people would say that the country has lost a bit of its luster. So, if you wanted to try and package together a vision of a “great America,” it would be freer, with more economic opportunity. For everyone.
It’s hard to knock that vision, as it is more or less in line with what we’ve been taught that America is supposed to represent, rather than what it’s become in recent decades. The United States, in many ways, has come to resemble a police state with a huge opportunity and economic equality gap. That’s led to a groundswell of unhappy people supporting unorthodox candidates this election cycle.
If CivicScience’s poll is any indication, Trump supporters appear to want a return to a more idealized America than anything.