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Putting A Face To Anti-Trump Voters


The day after Donald Trump was inaugurated, millions of people gathered at the Women's March in Washington and in cities around the country to mount a roaring resistance to the new president. Over the past year, pundits have often described that resistance as highly progressive or left of center, even an outgrowth of the Bernie Bros. Theda Skocpol and her partner Lara Putnam did their own research. Skocpol is a professor of government and sociology at Harvard. She co-wrote a book about the Tea Party at its height. Now she's putting a face to the anti-Trump movement. Skocpol went to eight counties in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and found the resistance is a much more moderate bunch than you'd think.

THEDA SKOCPOL: Everywhere I went, these groups were overwhelmingly women - about 70 percent - and Lara Putnam finds the same thing in southwestern Pennsylvania. They meet regularly. There are men involved, but they're tackling the kind of good citizenship issues that we might expect, trying to jumpstart the conversation in their communities over the pressing issues of the day.

But from the beginning, they've been pushing back against the Trump agenda, defending the Affordable Care Act, speaking up for immigrants and refugees. And they've been active for quite some time and getting people to run for office and support those people at the local, state and national level.

GONYEA: Especially as reporters, we're always looking to kind of compare and categorize, though, right? And you say we should be careful not to think of this as a liberal version of the Tea Party.

SKOCPOL: I think there are some similarities in how the organizations work - a lot of role for kind of self-organized local groups that meet face-to-face. But the Tea Party back in 2009-11 was really to the right of the Republican Party very consistently. It was pushing on Republican officeholders from a more extreme position, and I don't think that's quite true here. These anti-Trump resistance groups are pushing on the Democrats to be more engaged, to be more active and to be open to volunteers, just like the Tea Partiers did back then. But they're not necessarily to the far left.

GONYEA: It's interesting because it feels like the Democratic Party as a whole is moving to the left. We can argue about how fast and how far that is, but it feels like that's the direction that it's going. But it doesn't then line up with what you're describing here.

SKOCPOL: Well, I mean, think about it. Once the Democrats lost as badly as they did in November 2016, and they - before that, they had lost a huge number of state legislatures and governorships, not to mention both houses of Congress during the course of Barack Obama's presidency.

That means that what's left in the way of Democratic officeholders are - tend to be liberals from my state of Massachusetts or from New York or from California or from the various islands of liberalism in between. So they're very active in arguing about what should happen at the Democratic National Committee, who should be the next nominee for president.

But meanwhile, a lot of these local groups, which are formed in places far from those coastal liberal strongholds, are talking about more bread-and-butter issues, really. The counties I'm studying don't have very many people of color in them, so it's not a racial issue. It's a sort of humanitarian issue in these places.

GONYEA: I'm wondering if you see local Democratic establishment figures - the local county officials and state officials - paying attention to these kinds of groups the way you are. Do they seem to be on top of the changes that you're picking up on?

SKOCPOL: You know, in most of the local areas I visited, I tried to get to know local party leaders as well as local Tea Party or resistance leaders, if they exist. And in all of the areas that I've visited, the Democrats were a little bit caught by surprise at the local level. They all complain that the Hillary Clinton campaign didn't really come into their areas. I was told in a few cases that maybe some young man arrived from Brooklyn and tried to tell us what to do. People would use almost the same words in different parts of the country.

It really varies whether these local resistance groups that have popped up since the election are being welcomed by the local Democrats in the state, Democrats or not. In some of the counties I visited, there's a close working relationship. They aren't one and the same, but they're cooperating, for example, on signing up people to vote and perhaps supporting some local candidates. But in other places, the local Democratic Party establishment is moribund, or it's hostile to the idea that new people should organize and try to tell them what to do.

GONYEA: Theda Skocpol is a professor of government and sociology at Harvard. Thanks for joining us today.

SKOCPOL: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.