Sam Altman runs a prestigious Silicon Valley startup incubator, Y Combinator. He did not vote for Donald Trump. But he wanted to learn about how the rest of America thinks and feels. So he spent months traveling the country, interviewing Trump supporters. He published his findings on his personal blog and has allowed Business Insider to publish them here as well.
After the election, I decided to talk to 100 Trump voters from around the country. I went to the middle of the country, the middle of the state, and talked to many online.
This was a surprisingly interesting and helpful experience — I highly recommend it. With three exceptions, I found something to like about everyone I talked to (though I strongly disagreed with many of the things they said). Although it shouldn't have surprised me given the voting data, I was definitely surprised by the diversity of the people I spoke to — I did not expect to talk to so many Muslims, Mexicans, Black people, and women in the course of this project.
Almost everyone I asked was willing to talk to me, but almost none of them wanted me to use their names — even people from very red states were worried about getting "targeted by those people in Silicon Valley if they knew I voted for him." One person in Silicon Valley even asked me to sign a confidentiality agreement before she would talk to me, as she worried she'd lose her job if people at her company knew she was a strong Trump supporter.
I wanted to understand what Trump voters liked and didn't like about the president, what they were nervous about, what they thought about the left's response so far, and most importantly, what would convince them not to vote for him in the future.
Obviously, this is not a poll and not "data." But I think narratives are really important.
Here's what I heard.
The TL;DR quote is this:
"You all can defeat Trump next time, but not if you keep mocking us, refusing to listen to us, and cutting us out. It's Republicans, not Democrats, who will take Trump down."
What do you like about Trump?
"He is not politically correct." Note: This sentiment came up a lot, probably in at least a third of the conversations I had.
"He says true but unpopular things. If you can't talk about problems, you can't fix them."
"I'm a Jewish libertarian who's [sic] grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Over the last few years, the mainstream left has resorted to name-calling and character assassination, instead of debate, any time their positions are questioned. This atmosphere became extremely oppressive and threatening to people, like myself, who disagreed with many of Obama's policies over the past several years. Intelligent debate has become rare."
"It's a lot like political discussion was in Soviet Union, actually. I think the inability to acknowledge obvious truths, and the ever-increasing scope of these restrictions, makes it particularly frustrating. And personally, for whatever reason, I find inability to have more subtle discussion very frustrating — things are not white or black, but you can't talk about grays since the politically correct answer is white."
"He is anti-abortion." Note: This sentiment came up a lot. A number of people I spoke to said they didn't care about anything else he did and would always vote for whichever candidate was more anti-abortion.