Trump Supporters Rally Around Him Even More with Each Attack Thrown His Way, UB Political Scientist Says

Criticism from the opposite party, or media, creates a backlash effect, Jacob Neiheisel says

For Release: Dec. 11, 2015 Contact: Rachel Stern, University at Buffalo914-815-5656

Trump supporters rally around him even more with each attack thrown his way, UB political scientist says

Criticism from the opposite party, or media, creates a backlash effect, Jacob Neiheisel says

Newswise — BUFFALO, N.Y. – Republican frontrunner Donald Trump can withstand attacks for his antics if those come from political opponents or members of the media, says Jacob Neiheisel, University at Buffalo professor of political science. And in fact, those attacks will only help his presidential bid.

But the businessman faces a true threat if the criticism flung his way comes from someone Republicans like and support – and someone not associated with the old guard.

“Critiques that come from a source where you expect critique to come from are going to fall on deaf ears,” says Neiheisel, who researches political communication, elections and religion and politics. “People have a propensity to surround themselves with agreement. When people see political cues, someone they might be comfortable with ideologically, then the message might resonate.”

Otherwise, the opposite happens, Neiheisel says, and we see a backlash effect.

There’s a long list of controversial statements Trump has made during his campaign – questioning John McCain’s status as a war hero, ridiculing the physical appearance of Carly Fiorina, claiming that people in New Jersey cheered when the World Trade Center fell, and this week, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

But when Democrats, or members of the media, come out and criticize Trump, it simply does not resonate with his supporters, and in fact, it only makes them rally around him more, Neiheisel says.

“When criticism comes from the opposite party, we see that backlash effect, or doubling down, and there is an increase in their support or in the intensity of their original feelings and behaviors,” Neiheisel says.

In fact, Neiheisel’s most current research done over the past year, with Paul Djupe of Denison University and Andy Lewis of the University of Cincinnati, supports just that.

He found that negative views of Muslims are not rooted in attitudes toward another religion, but rather based on Republican or conservative identity.

Through four national surveys, people were presented with several groups – Muslims, Christian fundamentalists, the tea party, homosexuals and atheists – and asked which they liked the least.

“For Republicans, Muslims were consistently the least-liked group and partisanship emerged as the strongest factor driving that,” he says. “Politics trumps religion when it comes to tolerance of different groups, and in particular, when it comes to Muslims.”

People are not shifting their stance based on religious ideals, he says, but rather on partisan identification and makes them unwilling to even entertain views from others.

So how will this all play out as the Trump show rolls on?

“There needs to be an internal struggle before Trump sees a loss of support,” he says. “If other Republicans that voters like and support come out against Trump, and it must be someone people are comfortable with, then we might see things start to shift.”

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