Exploiting Donald Trump: Using Candidates’ Positions to Assess Ideological Voting in the 2016 and 2008 Presidential Elections


Andrew Gooch and Gregory A. Huber

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Gooch, A. and Huber, G.A. (2018), Polls and Elections: Exploiting Donald Trump: Using Candidates' Positions to Assess Ideological Voting in the 2016 and 2008 Presidential Elections. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 48: 342-356. DOI:10.1111/psq.12461.
Testing theories of how candidate positions affect voting is often complicated by the strong correlation between candidate partisanship and candidate positions. We take advantage of Donald Trump’s unusual candidacy to understand how candidates who depart from standard party positions affect perceptions of ideology and voting. We show in both 2016 and 2008 that respondents are more likely to report voting for the more ideologically proximate candidate, an advantage enjoyed by Trump in 2016 at much higher rates, in part because he is perceived as more moderate than prior candidates. What is most exceptional about Trump relative to previous candidates, however, is that voters were much less willing to place him anywhere in an ideological space. Being unwilling to place Trump was correlated with being much less likely to vote for him, and suggests some voters do not reward ambiguous or non-standard issue positioning. More generally, we find evidence that in the contemporary era of strong partisan attachments, some voters still appear to decide which candidate to support, in part, on assessments of candidate ideology.
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