“In a head-spinning reversal,” Robert P. Jones, the C.E.O. of P.R.R.I., wrote in the July 2017 issue of The Atlantic,
white evangelicals went from being the least likely to the most likely group to agree that a candidate’s personal immorality has no bearing on his performance in public office.
What happened in the interim? The answer is obvious: the advent of Donald Trump.
There is more to this phenomenon than evangelical hypocrisy. Many Republican voters, including self-identified strong conservatives, are ready and willing to shift to the left if they’re told that that’s the direction Trump is moving.
Michael Barber and Jeremy C. Pope, political scientists at Brigham Young University, reported in their recent paper “Does Party Trump Ideology? Disentangling Party and Ideology in America,” that many Republican voters are:
malleable to the point of innocence, and self-reported expressions of ideological fealty are quickly abandoned for policies that — once endorsed by a well-known party leader — run contrary to that expressed ideology.
Those most willing to adjust their positions on ten issues ranging from abortion to guns to taxes are firm Republicans, Trump loyalists, self-identified conservatives and low information Republicans.
The Barber-Pope study suggests that for many Republicans partisan identification is more a tribal affiliation than an ideological commitment.
Many partisans are, in effect, more aligned with the leader of their party than with the principles of the party. (Although Barber and Pope confined their study to Republicans, they note that Democrats may “react in similar ways given the right set of circumstances.”)
President Trump’s ability to slide his supporters to the left or right will face a major challenge if he lives up to what Democratic congressional leaders described on Wednesday night as the beginnings of an agreement to prevent the deportation of nearly 800,00 undocumented young immigrants and to strengthen border security without building a wall.
Barber and Pope’s paper expands on recent work by David E. Broockman and Daniel M. Butler, “The Causal Effects of Elite Position-Taking on Voter Attitudes,” which was published in the American Journal of Political Science. Broockman and Butler, who are political scientists at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the University of California-San Diego, found that
Voters often adopted the positions legislators took, even when legislators offered…