My last post was one of several arguing that people in general, and less educated people in particular, didn't see Donald Trump as all that interested in their problems. What was his appeal, then? The survey I used in my last post asked people who said that they would probably vote in a Republican primary "How confident are you in X's ability to make the right decisions about the economy--are you very confident, somewhat confident, not too confident, or not at all confident?", and about confidence in ability to "handle an international crisis" and "make the right decisions about illegal immigration." The questions were asked about Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina. That may seem like a strange choice of candidates, but Ben Carson was the strongest rival to Trump at the time--in this survey, 27% wanted Trump to get the nomination and 21% wanted Carson. There was no clear third--Ted Cruz had 9%, Marco Rubio 8%, Fiorina and Jeb Bush had 6% ("don't know" had 11%). The survey also asked people about their second choice, and Carson was the leader in combined first and second choices (41%), followed by Trump (38%), with Rubio (26%) and Fiorina (20%) farther behind.
The mean ratings by education (lower numbers mean more confidence):
College Grad Not Grad
Trump 1.82 1.70
Carson 1.89 1.98
Fiorina 1.95 2.27
Trump 2.56 2.23
Carson 2.14 2.09
Fiorina 2.23 2.46
Trump 2.13 1.87
Carson 1.84 1.97
Fiorina 2.06 2.46
Both college graduates and less educated voters had high confidence in Trump's ability to make the right decisions about the economy. On the other two issues, there was a bigger split by education, with the less educated seeing Trump more favorably. International crisis was an area of relative weakness for Trump, while immigration was one of strength. Less educated voters had substantially less confidence in Fiorina on all three areas.
My interpretation is that Trump's appeal to less educated voters was a matter of style--they saw him as tougher and less likely to compromise than "mainstream" candidates like Fiorina. This is almost opposite to the "Trump cared" analysis--you could say that people recognized that Trump was an s.o.b., but thought that was what the country needed. Although these data just apply to people who said they'd vote in a Republican primary, the general point is also relevant to the general election.
[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]