Republicans aren’t abandoning Donald Trump.
Republican members of Congress, sure: At least 16 Republican senators have unendorsed Trump after the leak of a 2005 tape in which Trump appears to brag about his ability to sexually assault women because he’s famous.
But Republican voters? Not necessarily.
Before the tape leaked, Morning Consult’s polling had Hillary Clinton up 41 percent to 39 percent over Trump. In the first poll conducted after the tape came out Friday afternoon, conducted by Morning Consult for Politico, Clinton’s lead’s expanded only slightly: It’s now 42 to 38.
In fact, most Republican voters don’t appear to be terribly concerned about the tape at all.
People know about the tape, but Republicans don’t think it’s worth defecting over
It’s not that people haven’t heard about the tape. Morning Consult found that 80 percent of voters had heard at least “some” about it. That’s a level of awareness exceeded this year only by terrorist attacks (in Orlando and Brussels). It’s especially impressive given that the poll was conducted Saturday and the tapes didn’t even come out until Friday afternoon.
Furthermore, Morning Consult’s online polling methodology actually included an embed of the audio from the tape itself — so any voters who hadn’t yet heard Trump saying “grab them by the pussy” could hear it for themselves.
Republicans didn’t love the tape. Forty-eight percent of them said it gave them a less favorable impression of their party’s nominee. But they were mostly persuaded by the apology video Trump released on Facebook late Friday night (65 percent of Republicans viewed him more favorable after watching it, as opposed to only 37 percent of voters overall).
In a separate poll, conducted by CBS and YouGov, Trump supporters in Ohio and Pennsylvania really weren’t moved by the video: 91 percent of his Ohio voters, and 90 percent of his Pennsylvania voters, said the tape didn’t change how they saw Trump at all.
And they really, really don’t think he should drop out over it. Only 12 percent of Republicans in the Morning Consult poll think Trump should withdraw. That represents a massive gap between the party’s elected officials and its voters: Just under 30 percent of the Senate Republican caucus (16 of 54 GOP senators) have jumped off the Trump train as of Sunday morning.
Some Republican voters (28 percent) say they’d be more likely to vote for a down-ballot candidate who unendorsed Trump. But nearly as many (25 percent) say they’d be less likely to support a candidate who abandoned their party’s nominee.
It might take a while for Republicans to decide the tape was unacceptable
As a general rule, it takes a few days or weeks for people to decide how they really feel about scandals like this. Sometimes it takes talking to friends or family about it and coming to the conclusion that this really is unacceptable; sometimes, seeing one’s own political team condemn the behavior gives people the opening they need to condemn it themselves. (Sometimes, though, it’s simply that not everyone has heard about a scandal immediately, which doesn’t appear to be the case here.)
But it’s also possible that the tape simply isn’t the deal breaker that Republican elites have spent the weekend persuading themselves it was. In particular, Republicans had assumed the tape would sink them with white suburban Republican women. But GOP women don’t appear to be reacting all that differently from GOP men: Only 13 percent of Republican women think Trump should drop out, which is totally in line with all Republican voters.
The fact of the matter is that partisanship is a powerful thing. A lot of Republicans have supported Trump for more than a year at this point; even more of them have spent the past several months persuading themselves that he was the right choice to beat Hillary Clinton in November. They’ve stuck with him through dozens of blowups over his racism and sexism; they stuck with him when he said a Mexican-American federal judge was unfit to serve because of his ethnicity, when he picked a fight with the Gold Star parents of a slain Muslim American soldier, and when he defended calling one of his Miss Universe winners “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” by urging America to check out her “sex tape.”
For Republican elected officials, there’s a bright line between all of that and bragging about “grab[bing] them by the pussy.” Maybe, for Republican voters, there isn’t.