US Republicans have taken sharp populist turn in the Trump era, Reuters/Ipsos data shows

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 5:04 AM

By Jason Lange and James Oliphant

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican Party’s transformation is apparent at any Donald Trump rally: The crowd is filled with working-class voters, many without college degrees, who are in lockstep with him on issues where he has overhauled the party’s platform, from immigration to trade to foreign policy.

An analysis of a decade’s worth of Reuters/Ipsos polls shows how the U.S. Republican electorate has shifted in its makeup and views. The classic “country club” Republican, well-off and well-educated, now makes up a smaller slice of the pie.

In its place is a Republican electorate that is more isolationist, more skeptical of globalization, more suspicious of the electoral process and more likely to view Democrats as a threat than it was when former President Trump launched his first run for the White House in 2015.

Even with Trump out of office, the shift is affecting U.S. policy in Congress where hardline House Republicans for five months have blocked Democratic President Joe Biden’s pleas for more aid for Ukraine as it fights off a Russian invasion.

A few years ago, senior Republicans were typically Russia hawks and the people at the top of the party, such as 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney, were strong proponents of free trade. Not anymore.

Some of the changes are stark: One in five Republicans today say the U.S. should often flex its military muscle to achieve foreign policy goals, down from one in three a decade ago. Just half say they have “at least some” confidence in election integrity, down from two-thirds who previously expressed that view.

At the same time, the share of Republicans who see immigration as an imminent threat has risen sharply, while support for free trade has softened.

The shifts reflect an electorate that has become more populist, both feeding off of Trump’s populism and influencing the broader party, said J. Miles Coleman, an analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

“It’s hard to see the (party) going back to nominating Mitt Romney-type candidates,” Coleman said. Romney, who lost in 2012 to Democrat Barack Obama, at the end of this year will retire from the U.S. Senate, joining an exodus of old-line Republicans.

Reuters analysis of how the makeup of the Republican electorate has shifted is based on an examination of responses from over 130,000 U.S. adults to Reuters/Ipsos polling in 2016 and from more than 14,000 surveyed so far in 2024, most recently in a nationwide online poll conducted March 7-13.

Reuters also reviewed tens of thousands of responses to Reuters/Ipsos polls on policy issues dating back to 2014. The figures have a level of precision of between about one and three percentage points.


While Trump has been a transformational figure within the Republican Party, the changes in its worldview were in motion before he entered politics, said Dave Hopkins, a Boston College political science professor.

“Trump’s nomination and election reflected the discomfort that many traditionalist and nationalist Americans feel about a swiftly changing and complex society in which the values of well-educated progressives increasingly prevail,” Hopkins said, referring to initiatives on diversity, transgender rights and climate change that many conservatives oppose.

“These larger historical and social trends predated Trump, and they will almost certainly endure after his political career is over.”

Trump’s swift defeat of his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination this year demonstrated his grip on his party’s voters, but November’s election rematch between Trump and Biden will test how broad his appeal is.

Trump lost the 2020 election by more than 7 million votes, a result he continues to falsely claim was the result of fraud. He has also ramped up verbal assaults on the justice system as he braces for four upcoming criminal trials.


While the modern Republican Party’s re-orientation around populist issues might limit its appeal to college-educated suburban and urban voters, it appears to be attracting some new supporters, particularly among Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. electorate, the analysis shows.

Some 29% of Hispanics without a college degree now identify as Republican, up from 24% in 2016. Hispanic men have shifted to the party more than Hispanic women.

“If the Republican Party can continue to bolster its appeal among non-white voters without college degrees, it will be able to sustain its electoral strength in national elections,” said Hopkins.

Black voters, meanwhile, continue to largely avoid the party, but more now identify as independent, suggesting that there is at least an opportunity for persuasion by Republican candidates.


Half of white voters without college degrees now identify as Republican, up from about 40% in 2016. That’s a notable shift given that Democrats’ ties with labor unions have historically brought them significant support from white voters who did not graduate from college.

These voters are more likely to live in rural areas and to have experienced job losses in the manufacturing and retail sectors that have come as a result of global trade deals.

Many saw their sons and daughters join the military during the country’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some have witnessed the impact of a rise in opioid addiction in their communities.

Some 21% of Republicans told this month’s Reuters/Ipsos poll that military force should be used frequently to promote U.S. foreign policy, down from 35% in 2014.

Both political parties are more wary of war than they were a decade ago, with 44% of Republicans and 57% of Democrats now saying the U.S. should rarely or never use military force, up from 38% and 50% in 2014, respectively.

The party’s embrace of free trade has also wobbled, with 72% of Republicans this month agreeing that international trade helps the average American, down from 78% in 2016. Republicans without a college degree had even lower support – 69%.

The share of Republicans who now view illegal immigration as an imminent threat has jumped to 57% from 40% in 2015. Republican support for border fencing and deportations has also jumped.

The poll also showed greater distrust of the electoral process, with only 52% of Republicans now voicing confidence in election results being accurate, compared to 66% in 2016.

About four in 10 Republicans see the Democratic Party as an imminent threat to the United States, up from one in four in 2015.

A similar proportion of Democrats view Republicans as a threat.

The analysis found a moderation of some hardline views on abortion, following the 2022 Supreme Court decision that ended the nationwide right to abortion.

The share of Republicans who say abortion should always be illegal has dropped to 14% in 2024 from 21% in 2016 as abortion rights have become a rallying cause for Democrats and independents.

“Perhaps some Republicans have realized that it’s now an issue that works against them and are trimming their sails,” Coleman said.

(Reporting by Jason Lange and James Oliphant; Editing by Scott Malone and Deepa Babington)