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Political Fandom and Trump's VP Pick

Note: This page is the landing spot for our analyses of political fandom and Trump's VP pick. It will be updated regularly with additional analyses. On a first visit, I recommend reading from the beginning, but on subsequent visits, jump to the new analyses. Analysis 1: Fandom and Possible VPs Analysis 2: Broadening versus Focusing the Ticket Analysis 3: Generational Differences Analysis 4: Swing Voters Analysis 5: Cultural Segments The Results: If you want to skip the data and analyses, the quick insights are below. The Home Run Choice: Tucker Carlson The Safe Choice: Ron DeSantis The Movement Choice: Vivek Ramaswamy The Female Choice: Sarah Huckabee Sanders Political Fandom and Trump's VP Fandom is an uncommon term in political strategy and polling. I think this is a mistake. Fandom is fundamentally about a shared passion for a cultural entity. Sports Fans have shared stories and narratives about their teams. The shared stories about their favorite teams and players help create relationships that build a fan community. Sports fans often build their identities around their favorite teams. While sports fandom is something we all know and understand, “political fandom” sounds strange. However, we could rewrite the passages below with words like “political partisans” instead of “sports fans” and “candidates and parties” rather than “teams and athletes.”     Thinking about politics in terms of fandom can be illuminating. If someone is a fan of a candidate, it becomes exceedingly difficult to get that person to switch to another. If someone bases their social identity on being a part of a party (or NOT being a part of the other party), it changes how they process information about candidates. Donald Trump has a passionate fandom among Republican voters, which is why none of his primary challengers had a chance. A Pittsburgh Steelers fan isn’t going to start rooting for the Bengals or Ravens because they have great quarterbacks. A Donald Trump fan wasn’t going to shift to Mike Pence (in the Republican primary) based on Pence’s policy proposals. A college sports fan doesn’t change allegiance because of a recruiting scandal, and a Donald Trump fan doesn’t switch candidates because a liberal DA indicts him.      All this is to say that fandom can be an immensely powerful and highly predictive political asset. Unlike preference, fandom is resilient and motivating. Fans resist switching, and fans volunteer and donate. We have recently finished data collection on our annual fandom survey (Next Generation Fandom Survey 2024). This year's survey includes fandom ratings for several potential running mates for Donald Trump. Our first look at the data will focus on fandom for these potential VPs. The list of potential candidates included: Kristi Noem Tim Scott Vivek Ramaswamy Tulsi Gabbard Elise Stefanik Ben Carson Sarah Huckabee Sanders Tucker Carlson Ron DeSantis Other potential VP picks include Kari Lake, Marco Rubio, Glenn Youngkin, or Nikki Haley (which seems very unlikely based on the campaign), but we had to keep the list manageable.   Analyzing potential VPs involves several complexities. First, there are lots of ways to analyze the data. Our focus will be simple fandom ratings (subjects were asked to rate their fandom on a 1 to 7 scale. We categorize answers of 6 or 7 as fans, 1 or 2 as anti-fans, and 3 to 5 as neutrals. We also need to make decisions about the level of the analysis. For instance, does it make sense to consider the feelings of hardcore liberals? Our plan is to do this analysis in stages, starting at a high level and then getting more granular. The plan is to update this page every few days with additional analyses and commentary.    Analysis 1: Overall Fandom Rates For a first look at the VP options, Figure 1 shows the fandom rates (6 or 7 on a 7-point fandom scale) for the entire sample of 2054 respondents. This sample is far broader than samples used in polling as there is no requirement to be a registered voter or likely voter. The sample also includes Generation Z members who are too young to vote. The data reflects overall societal-level fandom (passion + preference) rather than being reflective of potential voters. The sample is split across the generations. The figure includes Donald Trump as a reference point. Trump's fandom rate is 27.2% across the entire sample. Trump’s fandom far exceeds all the potential VP picks. On a side note, Trump’s fandom also exceeds Joe Biden’s fandom which comes in at 22.3%. The VP contenders are led by Tucker Carlson at 18.9%, Ron DeSantis at 17.2%, and Vivek Ramaswamy at 16.4%. The lowest-rated options include Kristi Noem and Tim Scott at 13.8%, Tulsi Gabbard at 13.3%, and Elise Stefanik at 12.5%.    Figure 1 The results suggest several crucial insights for the Trump campaign and raise additional questions. First, the insights: Tucker Carlson would be a non-traditional pick but has the broadest appeal. His communication skills would be an asset, while his lack of political experience is an unknown. Ron DeSantis has relatively broad appeal and political experience. He checks traditional boxes for a campaign – but are these traditional boxes relevant in 2024? Is the Trump-DeSantis relationship workable for both parties? Vivek Ramaswamy is another non-traditional choice. He adds interesting elements, but his style also draws political fire. Former Democrat Tulsi Gabbard is a theoretically interesting choice. She appeals to some interesting segments (dissidents? Joe Rogen listeners?) but lacks broad appeal. Kristi Noem and Tim Scott receive a lot of media attention. However, they do not seem to resonate with the public. Elise Stefanik is probably someone to look at in the future.   The analysis also raises questions. Half of Gen Z doesn’t vote, so what does fandom look like across the generations?  Should Trump pick someone who does better with younger folks? How do these folks compare to Kamala Harris? How do the options look across segments defined by political ideology? The VP position is interesting as it is a complementary role. Maybe it is a tiebreaker for some voters? Maybe it increases or decreases enthusiasm for members of the base, which helps with turnout.  Maybe the VP plays more of a tactical role as someone who can attack the other party's candidate. We will dive deeper into the data in the coming weeks (or at least until Trump picks someone).       Analysis 2: Broadening versus Focusing the Ticket A second consideration for potential running mates is how similar their support is to the top of the ticket. One school of thought is that the running mate should broaden the appeal of the ticket. Historically, “broadening” the ticket was about geographic region or a specific state. More recently, racial and gender considerations have become more common. Another school of thought is that the vice presidential candidate should be similar to the top of the ticket. Consistency within the ticket may increase the overall appeal and turnout rates of the core constituency. This may be especially true when the presidential candidate is older. If voters believe it is likely that the VP will need to succeed the president, then having a more similar running mate may be preferred.    Table 1 shows the correlations between support (preference ratings) for the potential VPs and Donald Trump. A correlation of 1 means that the subjects’ ratings of a potential VP move in parallel to ratings for Trump. A zero correlation means no statistical relationship between Trump's ratings and the potential VP's. Ron Desantis and Tucker Carlson have the most highly correlated ratings with Trump (.55 and .53, respectively). Elise Stefanik, Tulsi Gabbard, and Kristi Noem have the lowest correlations. The obvious observation is that the female options seem to have different patterns of preference. Table 1: Correlations between VP and Trump Preferences VP Option Correlation with Trump Support Stefanik .32 Scott .42 Ramaswamy .47 Carson .46 Huckabee Sanders .45 Carlson .53 Gabbard .34 DeSantis .55 Noem .35   The primary takeaway from the correlation table is that if you want consistency with Trump, then DeSantis, Carlson, and Ramaswamy are the top candidates. If the goal is broadening the ticket, then Noem, Gabbard, or Stefanik are interesting options. However, the analyses should be viewed in conjunction with one another. The potential VPs with lower correlations also tended to have lower fandom rates. The conclusion is that the enthusiasm in Republican circles is for Trump and candidates like Trump. Another fascinating and important result from the correlation analysis is that many of the correlations within the group of potential VPs are stronger than between the VPs and Trump. Table 2 shows the correlations for Tim Scott and Kristi Noem. Scott's support is highly correlated with the other options, ranging from a .74 correlation with Stefanik to .53 with DeSantis. For Noem, the correlations also all exceed .5. These correlations suggest a significant issue within the Republican party. Trump’s support is NOT based on traditional Republican support.      Table 2: Correlations between the Potential VPs VP Option Correlation with Tim Scott Correlation with Kristi Noem Stefanik .74 .74 Scott   .67 Ramaswamy .73 .61 Carson .69 .60 Huckabee Sanders .70 .62 Carlson .62 .53 Gabbard .66 .66 DeSantis .53 .54 Noem .67     It is a complex issue for the Trump campaign. Trump’s support dwarfs that of his Republican colleagues, and the correlations suggest that his support comes from sources different from those of traditional Republicans. Interestingly, DeSantis’ support is also relatively less correlated with support for the other VP alternatives. The implication is that the individuals who are most preferred (Trump, DeSantis, Carlson) are the least prototypical Republicans. Analysis 3: Generational Differences Effective political candidates understand that electoral campaigns occur within the media space. As such, campaigns operate within the structure of media narratives. In the 2024 campaign, one of the most prominent narratives is that the two candidates are too old. The “age” narrative places additional emphasis on VP selection for two reasons. First, the realities of age mean that older candidates are less likely to finish their terms and more likely to be replaced by their VPs.  A vote for Joe Biden may be a vote for Joe Biden for a few years and a vote for Kamala Harris for the remainder of the term. Second, generational appeal may be a means for balancing a ticket. If Republicans have trouble attracting younger votes, a VP who appeals to Gen Z and Millennials may be valuable. Figure 2 shows the fandom rates for the potential VPs for each generational cohort. First, the general pattern of fandom is interesting. Younger cohorts are more likely to express fandom than older segments. However, older groups are more likely voters. The fandom rates are especially interesting because fandom may be necessary for younger people to actually vote, while older segments may vote despite lacking enthusiasm. The general pattern for fandom is that Millennials are the most passionate, Gen Z and Gen X are similar, and Baby Boomers are the least passionate. For Generation Z, Tucker Carlson is the highest-scoring option, with a 19% fandom rate. Carlson is also the best-rated option among Millennials and Generation X. He also finishes second in the Baby Boomer group. As a media figure with an extensive history in traditional media and a significant presence on social media (3.7 million followers on IG and 12 million on X), Carlson is better positioned to have appeal across generations than other figures. In addition, despite being a controversial media figure, Carlson may benefit from not being identified as a politician.     Among the other options, there are a number of interesting results. Ron DeSantis has solid appeal across all generations but is strongest with older voters. It may seem counterintuitive, but Trump’s fandom rate is relatively weaker in the oldest segment. Trump’s fandom rate amongst Baby Boomers is 25.6% compared to Biden’s rate of 30.1%. Incidentally, the Baby Boomers are the only generation in which Biden has a higher fandom rate. DeSantis may help reinforce Trump with the less enthusiastic and most likely to vote segment. Vivek Ramaswamy is strongest with younger cohorts. He is an interesting option from a party perspective. He is ideologically aligned with Trump and has strength in the younger demographics. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has consistent appeal across all generations. Huckabee Sanders is the leading female option, except within Millennials, where she finishes second to Kristi Noem. Huckabee Sanders also outperforms the other women in the female segment (result unreported Figure 2 Analysis 4: Swing Voters Media analysis of VP alternatives often begins with the premise that VPs may sway undecided or swing voters. This is the notion that a VP is a tie-breaker. This is a logically appealing starting point for assessing potential VPs, but the specifics of analyzing the data are not apparent. The fundamental issue is how to define the swayable segment of voters. A classic approach might focus on political moderates. Other methods might focus on people who have a neutral opinion of Donald Trump or the population of people who are neutral towards both Trump and Biden.     Figure 3 shows the fandom rates for the potential VPs in the politically moderate segment. This is the largest ideological segment (1125 of 2054) but also the least passionate. In the “Moderate” segment, Vivek Ramaswamy has the greatest fandom, at 13%. Tucker Carlson and Ron DeSantis follow closely, at 12%. Kristi Noem, Elise Stefanik, and Tulsi Gabbard are the bottom three, at 9%.   The fandom rates in the Moderate segment are generally low and often similar to the fandom rates for the Republicans in the Liberal segment. The average fandom rate across all the candidates in the Liberal segment is 11.0% compared to 10.6% in the Moderate segment. While this is counterintuitive, years of fandom research have taught me that fandom is about passion and that people with cultural passion have many fan interests, while those without tend to be neutral across most categories. The propensity for fandom seems to be an individual trait rather than something that is distributed uniformly. The results might suggest choosing Vivek Ramaswamy or Tucker Carlson. However, the fandom rates are relatively low, and there is little difference between the potential VPs. Ramaswamy’s margin versus the lowest-ranked option, Tulsi Gabbard, is just 4%. The other gap in this analysis is that it doesn’t consider the preference for Kamala Harris, the opposition VP.       Figure 3 Figure 4 presents data for an alternative definition of swing voters. Figure 4 shows the fandom rates for the potential Republican VPs and Kamala Harris for the segment of individuals that rate BOTH Trump and Biden in the neutral range. This segment (N=332) is appealing as the segment is indifferent to the top of both tickets. If, however, a VP candidate inspires fashion, these folks may find the motivation to vote. In addition to fandom rates, this figure shows anti-fandom rates (people who rate the candidate as a 1 or 2 on a 7-point scale). Notably, all candidates, including Harris, have higher anti-fandom than fandom rates. Figure 4 Regarding potential Republican VP picks, Tucker Carlson has the highest fandom among the “Biden-Trump” neutrals, at 16.3%. Huckabee Sanders and Ramaswamy are the next best scoring options. Only Carlson and Huckabee Sanders outperform Kamala Harris. Critically, for this neutral segment, Ron DeSantis performs the worst among all the candidates. The analysis of the neutral segment suggests that Carlson is the best option and casts doubt on DeSantis. The analysis of the neutral or “open” segment is not without flaws. For example, while examining the population that is neutral towards both Trump and Biden is appealing, these “neutrals” may also be the least engaged and, therefore, the least likely to vote. However, the indication of fandom for a potential VP suggests that these folks might likely be inspired to vote if their preferred VP option is selected. Using a fandom metric is helpful as it suggests that passion exists for the potential VP, but the eventual impact on turnout is unknown.      Analysis 5: Taylor Swift and Sports (Cultural Segments) The analysis of running mate options is complex because there are many ways to analyze the data. In Analysis 4, we examined subpopulations with malleable political leanings and may be more persuadable than hardcore partisans. Even within this analysis, we demonstrated two approaches to segmentation – ideological moderates and Trump-Biden neutrals. Political analysts might also be interested in segments based on gender and racial categories. Examining respondents in swing states like Georgia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania would also be appealing. These types of analyses are driven by perceived needs to “balance” the ticket.  Another but less common approach to balancing a ticket is to focus on cultural segments. Cultural forces are often neglected in political campaigns, but they may have powerful effects. A minor subplot during this year's Super Bowl was speculation as to whether Taylor Swift’s companion Travis Kelce would endorse Joe Biden. At first glance, this seems like a strange (or silly) story, but Taylor Swift has immense cultural power and influence. As presidential elections tend to be decided by very small margins, if a celebrity like Swift can influence even a small number of fans to vote for a particular candidate, it can be impactful. The conventional wisdom is that Swift’s fans (Swifties) will vote liberal, but this is an assumption. Figure 5 shows the fandom percentages for the potential VPs, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump. The fandom rates are shown for two segments: Swifties and Anti Swifties. Swifties rate their fandom for Swift as a 6 or 7 on the 7-point fandom scale, while Anti Swifties rate her a 1 or 2. Just as fandom places reveal something about a person's cultural leanings, expressions of Anti Fandom also reveal personality traits. Donald Trump has fascinating results for these segments. While Trump has similar fandom percentages across the two groups (31.6 for Anti Fans and 30.9% for Fans) for all other politicians listed, the fandom rate is much higher for Swifties than Anti-Swifties. The higher fandom rates for Swifties relative to Anti-Swifties may be counterintuitive to general audiences, but it makes sense when one realizes that propensity for fandom is essentially a personality trait – fans of one thing are more likely to be fans of other things. The other notable result is that Trump shows a different pattern than the other political figures, with slightly higher random among Anti-Swifties. This is again evidence that the Trump movement is a cultural crusade rather than a Republican campaign.    Besides Trump, the Democrats score much better with Swifties than the Republicans – Biden has a 42.2% fandom rate, and Harris has a 40.2% rate among Swifties. Among the potential VPs, the highest fandom rates are 25.6% for DeSantis and 25.4% for Tucker Carlson and Ben Carson. Gabbard and Noem have the lowest fandom rates among Swifties. The lack of a gender effect is illuminating as it suggests that gender identity does not necessarily inspire passion for politicians. Interestingly, Tucker Carlson also has the highest fandom rate (outside of Trump) in the Anti-Swift segment at 18.7%. Anti-fandom is an interesting trait as it may also be driven by passion and may be a source of identity for the anti-fan. Trump's score with the Anti-Swifties also reveals that anti-fans can be passionate. Carlson's strong performance with both Swifties and Anti-Swifties is a powerful indicator of his ability to appeal across distinct (opposing) cultural segments.             Figure 6 shows the fandom rates for Football, Basketball, and Baseball fans. Like Swift fandom, sports fandom is also a meaningful personality trait. For Sports fans, Donald Trump has significantly higher fandom scores for Football (33.5% to 28.1%) and Baseball (40.3% to 31.6%) fans compared to Joe Biden and a slightly higher score among Basketball fans (32.9% to 32.4%). The two Republican VP options with the highest fandom rates in basketball are Tucker Carlson and Vivek Ramaswamy. Carlson has the highest fandom scores among VP options for all three sports. Figure 6 Cultural segmentation schemes, such as Swifties or sports fandoms, provide insight into the cultural attractiveness of VP options. Tucker Carlson excels across these cultural segments, perhaps because he is an established media figure with a unique point of view. Considering fandom as the criteria for a VP highlights the importance of the VP's ability to inspire cultural passion. Carlson is a non-traditional option, but in the 2024 media environment, the skills of the media celebrity may be as relevant to a campaign as the skills of the mainstream politician.    Notes on the Survey: The 2024 Next Generation Fandom Survey involves a nationwide survey of 2054 Americans. The survey includes roughly equal numbers of Generation Z, Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The survey is focused on sports fandom but includes coverage of entertainment and other cultural categories.

Political Fandom and Trump's VP Pick
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