Primary Distrust: Political Distrust and Support for the Insurgent Candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Primary
by Joshua J. Dyck, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz, University of Rhode Island, and Michael Coates, University of Maryland
The Presidential Primaries of 2016 were defined by the rise of two candidates who did not enjoy overwhelming support from the leadership of their party. Donald Trump, prior to becoming President, had never held public office in any capacity and changed his party affiliation at least five times. Bernie Sanders is a life long independent whose brief stint as a Democrat ended after less than a year when he changed his affiliation the day after losing the primary. And while Sanders did not ultimately win the nomination of the Democrats, both he and Trump won the support (and more importantly, the vote) of large portions of the rank and file members in their parties.
What the millions of primary voters saw in these candidates may have been exactly what made leadership so reluctant to support them, their status as outsiders who represent wide reaching and substantive changes in the party. The authors situate support for outsider candidates within the literature on political trust. Using data from two original surveys, they find that distrust was a more powerful motivator of intraparty primary support for Trump and Sanders than political ideology.