Staff Columnist

Do Iowans like their own political party, or just detest the other?

Republicans continue telling pollsters they approve of President Donald Trump

Ben Wilson (right) and Arsha Vaddadi both of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cheer as they listen to former presidential candidate a
Ben Wilson (right) and Arsha Vaddadi both of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cheer as they listen to former presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at a Repeal the TrumpTax Rally at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. Sanders was in Iowa as part of the 100-day, nationwide Repeal the Trump Tax Tour of the country to rally against the GOP's corporate and high-end tax cuts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

I have not shied away from being a Republican, nor from criticizing President Donald Trump. Sometimes it seems a little lonely.

No president in modern history has faced so much resistance from the highest levels of his own political party, yet Trump also enjoys approval from rank-and-file Republicans at least as high as his predecessors, while the Republican Party continues to grow.

Former Presidents George W. and George H.W. Bush and at least three of 2016 Republican presidential candidates publicly refused to vote for Trump. So did more than a dozen sitting Republican senators and representatives, and many more former party leaders, including former Rep. Jim Leach of Iowa and former Republican Party of Iowa Chairman A.J. Spiker.

Despite the influential detractors, 87 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s performance, according to Gallup. That figure dipped into the 70s last year, but has hovered near 90 percent recently.

Less data is available at the state level, but 84 percent of Iowans who voted for Trump approve of his performance, according to an April poll conducted by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by the leftist group Progress Iowa.

And it’s not that people are leaving the GOP en masse in protest, thereby inflating Trump’s approval among Republicans. Nationally, Gallup has found the portion of Americans self-identifying as Republicans has fluctuated a few points up and down since Trump entered politics, but remains 27 percent, almost precisely the 10-year average.

As of this month here in Iowa, the number of voters registered as Republicans has dropped just 1 percent since Trump was officially nominated two years ago. The number of registered Democrats has dipped as well, and Republicans still outnumber them, with the share of no-party and Libertarian Party voters increasingly slightly.


In private conversations, many Republicans admit they’re frustrated by Trump, if not embarrassed, but they feel pressured to be team players. Partisan allegiance is a hell of a drug, but I think something bigger is at play here too.

When pollsters ask Americans if they support one of the major political parties, I suspect what many of us actually hear is, “Do you oppose the other party?”

Figures gathered by Pew Research Center during the 2016 election show partisan voters are markedly opposed to their opponents. For the first time, a majority of both parties’ voters had a “very unfavorable” view of the opposite party, compared to about one-third on either side in 2008.

What’s more, Pew reported this year clear majorities of both parties — 71 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats — say a major reason for their party identification is that the other party’s policies are harmful for the country. In other words, Americans are increasingly motivated by what they’re against, rather than what they’re for.

As the 20th century proverb — popularized in my mind by country musician Aaron Tippin in the 1990s — says, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” Similarly, I argue if you only stand against things, you’ll fall for everything.

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