Do 20% of Trump’s supporters oppose the freeing of slaves after the civil war?

2/25 Update: The NY Times has improved, but not completely fixed, its erroneous claims. This post is updated.

Those Trump supporters.  It’s not bad enough they support The Donald, but 20% of them are pro-slavery! So says a recent article in the NY Times. In Measuring Donald Trump’s Supporters for Intolerance, Lynn Vavreck wrote on February 23rd, 2016:


It’s Horrible.  Reprehensible.  Staggering.

Oh, and it’s not true.  So not true that the Times quietly changed the text two days later, making it a bit less untrue:


But it’s still not true, in so many ways:

  • The poll does not ask about freeing the slaves after the civil war.  Let me repeat that. They did not ask people if they thought slavery should not have been abolished.  At least the NY Times fixed this claim.
  • The data on the emancipation proclamation does not show a 20% disapproval (OK, fine, 17% is close)
  • The question is not about disapproval of content of the emancipation proclamation per se, but of its implementation via executive order. It comes in the context of a series of questions about the constitutionality of executive orders. One could imagine that the 17% who opposed it might have approved of it via legislation or martial law. And certainly many have questioned the legality of many of Lincoln’s actions during the civil war: having concerns about the legality of it is not the same as supporting slavery.
  • The breakdown given in the cross-tabs  isis only for Republican likely primary voters, not Trump Supporters.

So what does the data actually show?  Here’s the table in question taken from the published results:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The question asked is “Do you approve or disapprove of the executive order which… (A) Freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government;”.  And 17% of republicans said they disapproved of it.  That’s bad, without a doubt: 17% of republicans said they disapproved of the Emancipation Proclamation (unless it’s just because they felt it should have gone further and actually freed all the slaves, in which case, bravo for staying true to the party’s roots.  But i doubt that’s the case).

That’s ironic beyond words, since the GOP was the abolitionist party.  But consider the sequence of questions it’s part of:

  • “125. Approval of Executive Orders Do you approve or disapprove Presidents using executive orders?”  83% of likely republican primary voters (LRPV for short) somewhat or strongly disapproved.
  • “126. Constitutionality From what you know now, do you think executive orders are constitutional or unconstitutional?”  38% of  LRPV felt they were unconstitutional
  • “128. Disapprove of the executive order which… Do you approve or disapprove of the executive order which… (A) Freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government;” 17% of LRPV disapproved.  (Question 127 was Approve of, and 70% of LRPV approved of it).

The poll asks about executive orders in general, and then asks about a series of executive orders of which one is Lincoln’s, it’s not surprising that some republicans, having just said that all executive orders are unconstitutional (and the majority of republicans said they disapproved of), felt obligated to be consistent about Lincoln.   But this is the methodology of a biased push poll, and the answers are suspect because of that.  Conduct an unbiased poll that asks if Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a good thing and get back to us?

The answers are very clearly not about the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is what actually abolished slavery after the civil war.  We have no idea how many republicans, let alone Trump supporters, think that slaves should not have been freed after the civil war, but there is no reason to assume it’s anywhere near 20%.

Let’s be clear, I don’t like Donald Trump’s politics, but slandering his supporters is not a winning strategy for anyone.

The full poll data are here: