I will have to disagree with many people on this one. Perhaps no other demographic in recent history has been studied more than Trump supporters. Not surprisingly, much data has been uncovered, and thousands of articles have been written (both academic and popular) and several books about what makes Trump supporters tick. What we can say for certain is that in some ways they’re a diverse group. In other ways, not so much.
One thing is certain, though: yes, Trump supporters are generally ignorant people. Let’s not try to sugarcoat that fact.
(As an aside, I like how artfully this question is phrased — the qualifier “generally” and the use of “ignorant” instead of “stupid” or “unintelligent.”)
I don’t know how anyone could claim that Trump supporters are not in fact “ignorant”, which means simply lacking in knowledge and not necessarily lacking in cognitive ability.
The single biggest correlation in predicting who voted for Trump — more than economic status, race, rural or urban, man or woman, among other things — was lack of a college degree (How America's Educational Divide Put Trump in the White House). That’s the data, supported by almost all available anectdotal evidence. Consider the following:
- Almost half of Republican voters believe that Trump won the popular vote (Horrigan: You don't have to be stupid to believe stupid things. But it helps.)
- Despite Barack Obama having professed his Christian faith, and despite his enjoyment of alcohol and pork, around 75 percent of Trump supporters think that he is a “secret Muslim” (Poll: Two-Thirds of Trump Backers Think Obama Is Muslim).
- Trump supporters believe that long-term crime rates are way up when in fact they are at historic lows (Voters’ perceptions of crime continue to conflict with reality).
- Trump supporters are prone to believe the most asinine, lazy, and weak conspiracy theories ever contrived by man, from vaccines causing autism to climate change being a hoax concocted by the Chinese who have co-opted the entire scientific establishment (Belief in conspiracies largely depends on political identity | YouGov).
- And then there’s actually talking to Trump supporters. The ignorance is almost palpable:
Now, I could go on with further examples, but will save any reader the pain. I think, though, it might be useful to ask oneself an important question: If William of Ockham were here, what would he say? I think he would say that Trump supporters generally are quite obviously ignorant. I don’t know how this could be even slightly controversial.
Let me address the obvious objections. Of course not all Trump supporters are ignorant. There’s a deep mix of reasons that people voted for the Tangerine Tornado. To cite some examples, it is often said that not all Trump supporters are racists, but then again all racists voted for Donald Trump (The past year of research has made it very clear: Trump won because of racial resentment). Some Trump supporters are intelligent and quite well aware that he is an epic moron, and voted for him in order to throw the figurative wrench into the machine — to bring the whole system down (Donald Trump as a monkey wrench). Others support him knowing they’re going to get hurt by him, but don’t care because they think that other enemy “tribes” will suffer more — the very essence of “sadopopulism” (Historian Timothy Snyder on Trump’s war on democracy: He is deliberately “hurting white peopl...). Some just like seeing liberals going berserk Why Trump's fans will never abandon him). Still others are quite simply ignorant, and think that we’re being overrun by raping, job-stealing Mexicans, trade wars are easy to win, and Trump will bring back all those beautiful, lucrative coal jobs. There are almost infinite combinations of these things and more which motivate Trump supporters.
Perhaps a more interesting question is whether Trump supporters are simply victims of their own ignorance (they will very clearly be victims of Trump’s presidency), or they’re being willfully ignorant. I don’t much care: ignorance is ignorance. It shouldn’t be admired, much less glorified, as it seems to be now. And no, Trump is not an evil genius — that would be giving him far more credit than he deserves (No, Donald Trump is Not an Evil Genius).
In sum, psychologists and evolutionary biologists have been studying the roots of ignorance for some time now, in particular our hardwired cognitive biases. Economists and other academics have been studying how our hyper-capitalist political economy and education systems are contributing to the epidemic of ignorance. Whatever the complex causes are, let’s at least be honest with ourselves — ignorance, like greed, is not good. And Trump supporters are, generally, ignorant people. I get that that is not a nice thing to say, but I’ve never been concerned about what is comforting, only about what is true. This is the polar opposite of what Trumpists do; they bend the facts to conform with their beliefs, not vice versa. This is a problem. And I am ignorant of what the solution might be.