The Incited States: Are Liberal Americans having their own ‘Tea Party’ moment in the age of Trump?
18-34-year-olds most likely to report increased political engagement since Nov. 8.
March 16, 2017 – With protesters in the streets and congressional offices flooded with phone calls, one narrative emerging from the current U.S. political climate is that the election of Donald Trump has caused an awakening in the American political system, particularly among those opposed to the new President.
A new public opinion poll of more than 1,000 Americans – part of the Angus Reid Institute’s America Project – finds some evidence for this. Nearly half of all Americans say they are feeling inspired to political action as a result of Trump’s victory.
This engagement is especially pronounced among the youngest generation of Americans, who are more likely than those over age 35 to have participated in the political process – by contacting their representatives, attending a protest, signing a petition, or even just posting political views on social media – so far this year.
That said, there are limitations to Americans’ newfound political awareness. Those who did not vote in last year’s elections are unlikely to say they’re participating more in 2017, and they are as likely to say they’ve been turned off by Trump’s victory as to say they’ve become more engaged as a result of it.
- Almost half of all Americans (48%) say the election of Donald Trump has made them become more involved in politics and government. Fewer than one-in-five (17%) say the election “turned them off” of politics
- Those who voted for Trump and those who voted for his opponent Hillary Clinton are equally likely to say they feel more politically engaged as a result of the election (55% each)
- Clinton voters are more likely than Trump voters to say they either have already taken political action in 2017 or plan to do so
- PART 1: U.S. Findings
- A political awakening?
- The Political Participation Index
- What activities are people most engaged in?
- PART 2: Canadian Findings
- Young people most motivated in Canada as well
- C. is most engaged province
- Planned participation lower than all-time participation in Canada
A political awakening?
On the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States, millions of people around the world took to the streets to protest him. A week later, Americans flocked to their nation’s airports to protest against Trump’s executive order temporarily banning refugees and residents of seven countries from entering the country.
Time will tell whether this initial surge of interest in political participation is a temporary change or a “new normal” for U.S. politics, but half of Americans (48%) say they’re feeling more engaged in the Trump era. That’s almost three times as many as say they’ve been “turned off” since the election (17%). The rest (35%) say their participation has neither increased nor decreased because of Trump.
Younger respondents (those ages 18 – 34) are especially likely to say they’ve tuned into the political process since Trump’s victory, as seen in the following graph:
Perhaps unexpectedly, given that the largest protest against the new President so far (indeed, the largest protest in U.S. history, according to some estimates) was the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, this survey finds almost no gender difference in responses to this self-reported political engagement question. Men (47%) and women (48%) are roughly equally likely to say the election has made them more engaged, a finding that holds true across age groups (see comprehensive tables for greater detail).
Similarly, though most of the surge in political activity in 2017 has been seen on the left of the political spectrum, those who voted for the new President and those who preferred his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton are equally likely to say they’ve been motivated by the election result:
The Political Participation Index
Of course, there’s a difference between feeling more engaged in politics and actually participating in political activities at a higher rate. In order to uncover real increases in engagement, the Angus Reid Institute asked Americans a pair of questions about nine specific ways in which people might engage with the political process. First, ARI asked respondents whether they had ever done each of the activities. Then, ARI asked about their plans for each activity in 2017.
Using responses to this second question, researchers developed a “Political Participation Index” to provide a clearer picture of which groups of Americans are actually planning to get more involved this year, and which groups have already begun to do so.
The largest group of Americans (43%) score a 0 on this index. They express no intention to do any of the nine items asked about in the survey. This means that the rest (57%) have plans to do at least one of the canvassed activities. This group can be further divided into three categories of political participants: Low Participation, Moderate Participation, and High Participation:
- Low Participation (17% of the total population) are those who have gone no further than simply saying they plan to do one of the items on the list in 2017. They haven’t done anything yet, and they don’t have any political activities scheduled yet either.
- Moderate Participation (21%) are those who have specific plans for political engagement this year. They’ve either scheduled their participation in one or more of the activities on the list, or they’ve already done one (but no more than one).
- High Participation (18%) have already done two or more of the things asked about in this survey in 2017, and in most cases, they have plans to do more.
As might be expected, the groups that are more likely to have participated in one of the activities on the list (the Moderate and High Participation groups) are also more likely to report perceiving themselves as more “plugged in” now than they used to be.
That said, it’s interesting to note that even among those who anticipate No Participation in politics this year, three-in-ten (31%) still see themselves as being more engaged in politics since the 2016 election:
True to their stated belief that they’ve become more involved in politics and government since the 2016 elections, younger Americans are more likely than members of other age groups to find themselves in the three “participant” categories. Nearly seven-in-ten respondents ages 18 – 34 (69%) have plans to take political action in 2017, and a full majority (52%) find themselves in the more-active Moderate Participation or High Participation cohorts, as seen in the following graph:
The index also uncovers significant differences between Democratic and Republican voters in terms of their participation plans, suggesting that – while partisans on both sides may feel more motivated since the election – Democrats are more likely to actually take action in 2017.
Fully two-thirds of Democratic voters (67%) have plans to take political action in 2017, and fully half (51%) have concrete plans that put them in the Moderate or High Participation categories. Republican voters are substantially less likely to participate, and non-voters are even less so, as seen in the following graph:
The higher participation scores among Hillary Clinton voters raise some questions about what could have been. This increase in interest in the political process on the Democratic side of the scale has developed largely in response to Trump’s win. Whether a more motivated base would have been able to turn out more Clinton voters in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, or Florida remains an open question.
That said, electoral defeat has a way of galvanizing a party’s base. In 2009, shortly after Barack Obama’s first inauguration, conservative Americans took to the streets to protest the new president’s spending policies. Labeling themselves the “Tea Party” – a reference to the famous dumping of British tea in to Boston Harbor in 1773, as well as to the notion that Americans were “Taxed Enough Already” – the movement is often credited with pushing the Republican Party to the right, politically, and helping it regain control of the House of Representatives in 2010.
Some have suggested that the marches and rallies that have taken place since Donald Trump’s inauguration represent a sort of left-wing Tea Party, which will help the Democratic Party in the 2018 midterm elections. Time will tell if this particular bit of history repeats itself.
What activities are people most engaged in?
The increase in political activity in the first few months of 2017 has Americans on pace for a year of exceptionally high engagement. Indeed, as seen in the following graph, if Americans follow through on their plans to attend protests and call representatives in Congress, more of them will do so in 2017 than have ever done so in their lives:
Again, younger Americans lead the way in terms of participation. Larger numbers of 18-34-year-olds have already done each of the activities canvassed than any other age group. They’re especially likely to have attended a protest (15% have already, compared to just 2% of other age groups).
Young people are also more likely to express an intention to participate in each activity this year, even if they haven’t done so yet, as seen in the following graph:
Past Democratic voters also express intentions to participate in each specific activity at a higher rate than their Republican counterparts.
Democrats are especially likely to say they intend to protest in 2017, when compared to those who supported the Republican nominee (39% versus 9%):
So, while Trump voters say they’ve been just as inspired to action by the election result, they’re less likely than Clinton voters to say they’re actually planning to take action in 2017.
This disparity is not necessarily a reflection on Democratic voters being more predisposed to political activity. Each 2016 candidate’s supporters are roughly equally likely to have ever done each of the activities canvassed, with the notable exceptions of volunteering for a political campaign and attending protests:
In theory, the higher level of engagement seen among Clinton voters bodes well for the chances of Democratic candidates in the 2018 midterm elections – assuming, of course, that this base remains energized for 22 months, and that the party runs candidates that can capitalize this energy.
There’s a limit to the motivating power of Trump’s election, however. Those who didn’t cast a ballot in 2016 overwhelmingly do not plan to get more involved in the process in 2017, as seen in the graph that follows.
PART 2: Canadian Findings
Young people most motivated in Canada as well
The protests and activism that have marked the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency have been seen in Canada as well. Tens of thousands of Canadians took part in women’s marches around their country, and thousands more have rallied in solidarity with the Canadian Muslim community since Trump’s executive order and the terrorist attack on a mosque in Quebec City.
In order to measure the extent of the surge in political activism north of the border, the Angus Reid Institute asked Canadians the same questions it asked of Americans. Perhaps predictably, given that Americans are more directly connected to and affected by the Trump administration, Americans report higher rates of engagement than Canadians.
That said, Canadians are still significantly more likely to say they’re feeling more engaged as a result of Trump’s victory (32%) than to say they’re feeling less engaged (19%). The largest group, 49 per cent, say the U.S. election hasn’t affected their political participation either way.
As in the U.S., younger Canadians (those ages 18 – 34) are the age group most likely to say they’ve become more engaged as a result of the U.S. election. Unlike in the states, however, older Canadians are nearly as likely as younger ones to profess greater interest in politics since Trump’s win:
Younger Canadians also tend to be more likely to express an intention to engage in each of the specific political actions canvassed in this survey, though in most cases this is only a slight tendency (see comprehensive tables for greater detail).
One major exception to this pattern is on the question of attending a protest. Nearly one-in-ten young Canadians (9%) have either done this already or are scheduled to do it in 2017. As seen in the following graph, those under 35 are dramatically more likely than other age groups to have done this already or to plan to do it this year:
B.C. is most engaged province
Notably, though there is only slight regional variation in responses to this question in the U.S., in Canada, there are massive regional differences.
In British Columbia, for example, 44 per cent say they’re more engaged as a result of Trump’s victory, more than double the number who say they’ve been turned off. B.C. is also the only province in which more people say they’ve tuned in than say they’ve been unaffected.
In Quebec, meanwhile, only one-in-six (16%) say the election made them want to participate more in politics. Indeed, nearly two-thirds (65%) in la belle province say Trump’s election has had no effect on their political participation either way, the highest of any province:
Planned participation lower than all-time participation in Canada
As previously mentioned, this survey finds Americans on pace for a year of historically high participation in the political process – assuming they follow through on their intentions.
In Canada, this same comparison is somewhat less remarkable, but still significant. More than one-in-ten Canadians plan to do each of the items canvassed in 2017, as seen in the graph that follows. While this is lower, in each case, than the total number of Canadians who have ever done each activity, it’s still the equivalent of millions of people who intend to take political action this year.
The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.
For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.
For detailed results by 2016 Presidential vote, click here.
Shachi Kurl, Executive Director: 604.908.1693 firstname.lastname@example.org
Image Credit – Joe Flood (Flickr)