Why Trump’s Republican Lead In Mass. Might Not Be A Surprise

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A new poll shows Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at 40 percent support among likely GOP voters in Massachusetts. (Hadley Green for WBUR)
A new poll shows Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at 40 percent support among likely GOP voters in Massachusetts. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

In the last few decades, Massachusetts has delivered liberal icons to the national stage in presidential contests — experienced politicians including members of the Kennedy family, Mike Dukakis and John Kerry. Now, the state might be ready to deliver Donald Trump one of his biggest wins yet in the Republican presidential primary contest.

The new WBUR poll out Thursday evening shows Trump at 40 percent support among likely Republican voters in Massachusetts — 21 points ahead of the next closest candidates.

A win in Massachusetts by that margin might shock many people, but probably not Trump, who in a recent victory speech in Nevada mocked his naysayers.

“We were’t expected to win too much, but now we’re winning, winning, winning,” Trump said to uproarious applause.

Trump’s supporters wouldn’t be shocked either, including 46-year-old Brian Cronin, a construction worker from Pepperell, Massachusetts, who we met at a Trump rally in Nashua, New Hampshire.

With classical music echoing throughout the hotel ballroom, Cronin told us why Trump’s got his vote.

Brian Cronin, left, of Pepperell, attended a Donald Trump rally last month in Nashua, New Hampshire, with his friend James Harvey, of Chelmsford. Cronin works construction and says that he's supporting Trump in the presidential primary. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

Brian Cronin, left, of Pepperell, attended a Donald Trump rally last month in Nashua, New Hampshire, with his friend James Harvey, of Chelmsford. Cronin works construction and says that he’s supporting Trump in the presidential primary. (Hadley Green for WBUR)

“He speaks from his heart and he’s won the true hearts of the countrymen of the United States of America,” he said. “And it’s going to be the hard-working people of America that are going to step out of the log pile and vote for him.”

So, what’s driving Trump’s popularity in Massachusetts? We’ll tick off a few possible reasons, starting with anxiety.

‘We Have To Go In A Different Direction’

You might think the booming Massachusetts economy shields us from the kind of economic angst fueling Trump support elsewhere, but a new study from the Pioneer Institute, a Boston think tank, paints a picture of uneven economic well-being here.

It says while Greater Boston is thriving, the economic centers west, north and south of Boston face huge challenges.

Take Brockton, where in 2015 the unemployment rate was about one-third higher than the state average.

“We have to go in a different direction than where we’re going and we’re going in a downward spiral direction,” said Trump supporter Charlie Vella, of Brockton.

We ran into Vella outside of a Trump campaign office in the town of Easton. He was carrying a fistful of Trump bumper stickers for his wife’s car and when we asked the open question, “Why Trump?” Vella launched right into his version of anxiety.

“I’ve been paying into Social Security my whole life. I’m not going to see a penny of it. … I’m convinced of that, unless we right the ship, ’cause we’re sinking and it feels like I have an outline of the country on my back because I can’t stand the weight of it any longer, that’s why I’m going Trump.”

– Charlie Vella

“I’ve been paying into Social Security my whole life. I’m not going to see a penny of it,” Vella said. “I’m 48 years old. I’m not going to a see a penny of it, I’m convinced of that, unless we right the ship, ’cause we’re sinking and it feels like I have an outline of the country on my back because I can’t stand the weight of it any longer, that’s why I’m going Trump.”

And here’s the thing: It’s not as if Vella doesn’t have a paycheck. He works as a college groundskeeper and was driving a pretty nice pickup truck.

‘I Feel Like He’s One Of Us’

Charlie Malo, of South Easton, volunteers at Donald Trump's presidential campaign office in Easton. Malo says part of Trump's appeal in Massachusetts, and nationwide, is that he's not a career politician. "He tells it like it is and he's honest, and in my opinion nobody can ask for more than honesty." (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

Charlie Malo, of South Easton, volunteers at Donald Trump’s presidential campaign office in Easton. Malo says part of Trump’s appeal in Massachusetts, and nationwide, is that he’s not a career politician. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

The Trump office in Easton is in a closed bank building. Inside, right next to the tellers windows, three men were drinking coffee and watching Fox News.

Charlie Malo, the Massachusetts Trump campaign co-chair, was answering the phone, which was ringing pretty regularly. Malo told us hundreds of people have walked in to volunteer for Trump in the few short weeks the office has been open.

“Why Trump for me? Because you know, I had the opportunity to meet the man on a couple different occasions,” Malo said. “And, if Mr. Trump was sitting right here at the table with us having a cup of coffee, he is one of us.”

Sandra Domenicucci, of South Easton, is unemployed. She walked in to the office to volunteer for the very first time while we were there.

“I feel, when I listen to him, I feel like he’s one of us,” Domenicucci said. “I feel like you know where you stand with him. He’s not a polished politician and I feel comfortable with that. I feel like I can trust him more.”

Sandra Domenicucci, left, of South Easton, and Jeanne Comstock, of North Easton, volunteer at the Donald Trump campaign office in Easton. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

Sandra Domenicucci, left, of South Easton, and Jeanne Comstock, of North Easton, volunteer at the Donald Trump campaign office in Easton. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

So in other words, Trump might be a billionaire, but many of his supporters view him just as a trustworthy, regular person.

And, as we’ll learn later in the story, appearance matters. 

Leading With A Lack Of Details

When it comes to Trump’s large lead here in Massachusetts, Malo tells us he’s not surprised to hear of the career businessman-turned-politician’s success.

“I’m not really surprised how well he’s doing anywhere, specifically Massachusetts, because people believe the man,” Malo said. “He’s not a career politician, he’s not a liar, unlike other people, the man tells it like it is. What you see is what you get with Donald Trump.”

And there’s another possible key: In a state full of political lifers, not being a career politician makes Trump attractive.

Now, you might think in a politically savvy state such as Massachusetts, Trump’s lack of experience and lack of delivering specifics on most important issues would hurt him. But UMass Dartmouth political science professor Doug Roscoe sees it differently.

“Well, one of the interesting things about Donald Trump’s candidacy is that it’s not a very issue-oriented or ideologically-oriented candidacy,” Roscoe said. “You know, his big issue has really been about immigration, and he’s taken a pretty conservative position on that to be sure, but beyond on that I bet most voters would be hard pressed to tell you where Donald Trump stands on anything.”

Nonetheless, in the new WBUR poll, Trump leads all Republicans on all the key issues: improving the economy and the U.S. standing in the world, reforming immigration, working with Congress, handling foreign policy and keeping America safe — all without giving voters specifics.

Republican analyst Todd Domke and Democratic analyst Dan Payne, WBUR’s political team, have their own theories on Trump’s rise in Massachusetts.

Domke, who is not a Trump fan, blames the state’s Republicans.

“Without any opposition in this state to Trump from Gov. Charlie Baker, Republicans, some, view Trump as an almost safe, establishment choice,” Domke said.

To be fair, Baker did say this week that he probably won’t vote for Donald Trump.

Payne thinks Massachusetts might just be exhibiting its occasional political crankiness.

“Massachusetts is liberal, but in the recent past it has voted for ‘Scoop’ Jackson, a conservative Democrat. It voted in 1984 for Ronald Reagan for president. So every so often, we behave like the rest of America,” Payne said.

All About Appearances

All right, here’s one more reason, which for some might be a head-scratcher.

A pair of social scientists — one at Princeton and one at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business — have determined that people make key determinations about others based on snap judgments. They’re talking about the subconscious influencing decision-making when people look at a face.

The Bloomberg news outlet asked the researchers to apply their findings to the 2016 presidential candidates. In a composite of traits including likability, trustworthiness and competence, Donald Trump is on top.

That’s right, he looks like a president.

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