Five Reasons West Virginians Love Trump

Feb 26, 2016

There’s evidence Donald Trump may be more popular in West Virginia than any other state.

West Virginia has the highest percentage of Facebook users who “like” Donald Trump compared to other presidential candidates – 32 percent.

One recent poll showed Trump trouncing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the state, 61 to 24 percent. He also has three times the support of the nearest primary challenger, Sen. Marco Rubio.

A second poll had Trump with 40 percent support from likely GOP primary voters – compared to 20 percent for second-place finisher Sen. Ted Cruz.

And among Democrats, Bernie Sanders is also very popular, compared to Clinton. Both polls showed Sanders with a sizable lead over her – 32 to 24 percent in one, and 57 to 29 (!) in the other.

Why is Trump so popular here? On this week’s Front Porch podcast, we debate five possible reasons.

It’s the economy, stupid.

The collapse of the coal industry has led West Virginia into a recession, and voters are really angry. They’re not happy with either party, and Sanders and Trump are seen as being independent, even as they compete within their respective primaries.

“It’s not just West Virginia, it’s Appalachia generally,” said conservative columnist Laurie Lin. “We have white folks who have been left behind,” which is Trump’s base.

Here’s some evidence – economically-distressed counties in West Virginia are most likely to “like” Trump on Facebook. The most depressed county in the state, McDowell, is also where Trump is most popular.

46 percent of people who "like" a candidate in McDowell County, liked Trump - one of the highest percentages of any county in the nation

Frustration with gridlock

This is the reason given by Rex Repass, CEO of REPASS Research and director of the MetroNews West Virginia Poll.

“The economy and frustration with the status quo in Washington is helping these non-traditional candidates nationally and in West Virginia,” Repass said.

Fear of “the other”

Rick Wilson, liberal commentator from the American Friends Service Committee, said, “Trump has played on fear and hatred of the other, which is easy to do in times that are uncertain.”

There’s some evidence that West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia has trouble accepting diversity. West Virginia also has the smallest percentage of immigrants in America.

Populism

“He’s the only Republican candidate who wants to strengthen Social Security and Medicare,” Wilson said.

He also questions free trade, Wilson said – which is unusual for a GOP politician, but a popular view among many GOP and independent voters in West Virginia.

Authoritarianism

A recent study found that education, income, gender, age, ideology and religiosity “had no significant bearing on a Republican voter’s preferred candidate.”

But one variable explained Trump’s support: authoritarianism - the desire for a strong leader, even at the expense of individual freedoms.

Voters on the high end of the authoritarian scale were very likely to support Trump, the study found. And there are many more authoritarian voters in the GOP: “49 percent of likely Republican primary voters scored in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale—more than twice as many as Democratic voters.”

“Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge,” the study’s author wrote. “Trump is seizing the opportunity.”

Is West Virginia a more authoritarian state? Our panel didn't know of any data on this. In general, West Virginians often hold more traditional views on social issues and the military - and that may explain their support for authoritarian candidates.

Also on this week’s podcast - Do we need a constitutional convention? This week the West Virginia Senate voted along party lines to request a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution.

The language says the convention would be “limited to proposing amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and limit the terms of office for its officials and for members of Congress.”

The West Virginia resolution is identical to a model adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council in September 2015.

West Virginia would be the sixth state to call for an Article 5 convention.

Lin said she is against it, but tempted to support anything that upsets liberals so much.

In a recent op-ed against it, Wilson quotes late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said in 2014: “I certainly would not want a constitutional convention…Whoa, who knows what would come of it.”

Also, is it time for West Virginia to get rid of so-called “blue” laws? They prevent drinking in restaurants before 1 p.m., hunting in certain counties, and other activities on Sunday. We debate whether to “keep the Sabbath holy.”

Support for The Front Porch comes from wvcarfinder.com, matching West Virginia cars with West Virginians who want to buy them. It’s a service of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.