Trump Has Turned Millions of Americans Into Activists

Protesters, part of a 500,000-strong crowd, attend the Women’s Rally on the one-year anniversary of the first Women’s March, in Los Angeles, California. Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

Almost exactly two years ago, Susan Sarandon went on MSNBC and argued that a Donald Trump presidency might be preferable to a Hillary Clinton one — because the former could expedite the onset of a political “revolution.”

As a rationale for voting to make a proto-fascist reality-star commander-in-chief, this assessment has not aged well. But a (much) softer version of Sarandon’s hypothesis — that Trump’s election would inspire American progressives to radically increase their involvement in political activism, in ways that could transform the country in the medium term — is holding up rather well.

The day after Trump’s election, outraged women (and their male allies) descended on D.C. to express their contempt for the pussy-grabber-in-chief, in the largest protest since the Vietnam era. Over the ensuing months, supporters of universal health care hounded Republican lawmakers at town halls. Newly radicalized suburban professionals turned their social networks into miniature political organizations. Democratic turnout in special elections skyrocketed. Teens walked out of their high schools and into the most influential gun-safety movement the United States has seen in decades.

The reality that our instinctually authoritarian president is (unintentionally) bolstering civic engagement in America has been apparent for a while now. But thanks to a new poll from the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, we finally have some hard data on the phenomenon.

The survey, which bills itself as “the most extensive study of rallygoers and protesters in more than a decade,” finds that one in five Americans has attended at least one protest or political rally since the beginning of 2016 — and that 19 percent of that group had never attended such an event before that year.

About half of those Americans who participated in political activism over the last two years did so at least partly in reaction to Trump. And in most cases, that reaction was a negative one: 70 percent of recently mobilized activists disapprove of the president.

The poll also suggests that anti-Trump activity is disproportionately concentrated among middle-aged, highly educated suburbanites: 44 percent of activists (broadly defined as Americans who’ve attended at least one protest or rally) were 50 or older; 46 percent earned more than $100,000 a year; and 50 percent were college graduates. These findings comport with previous sociological research from Lara Putnam and Theda Skocpol, which suggested that the college-educated suburban women in Middle America represent the core of the anti-Trump resistance.

The fact that the Trump era’s upsurge in political activism is concentrated among such “normies” — rather than the young, radical leftists who defined protest politics in the Vietnam era — might not augur well for the prospects of Sarandon’s desired “revolution.” But it is likely good news for Democrats hoping to win elections this fall: Hippies weren’t always the most reliable voters, but middle-aged, college-educated suburbanites generally are.

Trump Has Turned Millions of Americans Into Activists