Home > Press Releases > New PRRI/The Atlantic Survey: Two-Thirds of Trump Supporters Say Nation Needs a Leader Willing to Break the Rules
New PRRI/The Atlantic Survey: Two-Thirds of Trump Supporters Say Nation Needs a Leader Willing to Break the Rules

Civically Disengaged Republicans Twice as Likely to Support Trump Than Cruz

WASHINGTON – A new PRRI/The Atlantic Survey finds nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s supporters believe that the situation in the United States has gotten so far off track that country needs a leader willing to break some rules to set things right. In contrast, only 40 percent of Senator Ted Cruz supporters and 43 percent of Governor John Kasich supporters believe that the U.S. needs a leader willing to break the rules.

The PRRI/The Atlantic survey was conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with The Atlantic. The nationwide survey of 2,033 adults was conducted between March 30 and April 3, 2016. The survey explores attitudes about gender roles, immigrants, race, and economic well-being in the context of the 2016 presidential election.

“As the odds of a brokered Republican convention continue to increase, the Republican establishment is reportedly planning on falling back on convention rules to block Donald Trump’s nomination,” said PRRI CEO Dr. Robert P. Jones. “However, Donald Trump has mobilized the support of Americans who are not institutional players, and who are specifically looking to back a leader who is willing to break the rules—if that’s what it takes to achieve what they take to be good end goals.”

Among Republican and Republican-leaning voters, Donald Trump (37 percent) leads Ted Cruz (31 percent) and John Kasich (23 percent). Trump and Cruz are evenly matched among Republican and Republican-leaning white evangelical Protestants. Each draws support from 37 percent of the group. By contrast, Kasich has the support of less than one in five (19 percent) white evangelical Protestant Republicans. Republican voters who report that they seldom or never participate in community activities—such as a sports team, book club, PTA, or neighborhood association—are twice as likely to support Trump than Cruz (50% vs. 24%, respectively).

Nationwide, the survey finds that Hillary Clinton is roughly tied with Bernie Sanders (46 percent vs. 47 percent, respectively) among Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. In terms of religiosity, Sanders voters are more likely than Clinton voters to report lows levels of religious attendance. Nearly half (48%) of Sanders voters say they seldom or never attend religious services, compared to fewer than one-third (29%) of Clinton voters. However, Sanders voters and Clinton voters demonstrate comparable levels of participation in secular groups in their community.

“The religiously unaffiliated are emerging as a potent political force in 2016,” said PRRI Research Director Dr. Dan Cox. “Bernie Sanders leads Hillary Clinton among religiously unaffiliated Democratic voters by a substantial margin. This dynamic has shaped the nominating process, and the political potential of the unaffiliated will be an important story in the general election as well.”

The survey also shows that Clinton, even as potentially the the first female president, does not hold an edge over Sanders among female Democratic voters, who are nearly evenly divided, with 46 percent supporting Clinton and 44 percent supporting Sanders. However, there are notable differences between the preferences of older and younger women. Female voters under the age of 50 prefer Sanders to Clinton by a nearly two-to-one margin (58 percent vs. 33 percent, respectively), while female voters over the age of 50 prefer Clinton to Sanders by similar margins (61 percent vs. 29 percent, respectively).

Sanders supporters are also somewhat more likely than Clinton supporters to reject traditional gender roles. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Democrats reject the idea that society would benefit if men and women embraced traditional gender roles. Seven in ten (68 percent) Sanders supporters compared to only 56 percent of Clinton supporters, reject this view of traditional gender roles. These differences are largely driven by the disproportionate support Clinton has among non-white Americans, who tend to hold more traditional views about gender roles. Clinton’s white supporters have nearly identical views as whites who support Sanders.

Additional key findings:

  • The survey also finds that Trump supporters are notable for the degree to which they believe society has become too soft and feminine in recent years. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of Trump supporters, compared to 57 percent of Cruz supporters, say society as a whole has become too soft and feminine. By contrast, more than six in ten Clinton supporters (64 percent) and Sanders supporters (69 percent) reject this notion.
  • White evangelical Protestants are the only religious group in which a majority (53 percent) believe society has become too soft and feminine, while 66 percent of the religiously unaffiliated disagree with that statement.
  • About two-thirds (64%) of Trump supporters say they are bothered when dealing with immigrants who speak little or no English, compared to 46% of Cruz supporters. Three-quarters (74 percent) of Democrats and two-thirds (65 percent) of independents say they are not bothered when they come in contact with immigrants who speak little or no English.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) of Americans report being worried that they or someone in their family will be a victim of terrorism. These Americans report much stronger support for a leader who is willing to break the rules. About six in ten (61%) Americans who say they are very worried about being a victim of terrorism agree that the country needs a leader who is willing to break rules to put things right, compared to 39% of those who are not at all concerned.
  • A majority of Americans report a dim view of their current economic health, with 37 percent saying that their financial situation is fair and 17 percent saying it is poor. More than four in ten Americans say they are in good (36 percent) or excellent (8 percent) financial shape. Trump supporters do not report being in worse financial shape than Americans overall. Close to half of Trump supporters say that they are in excellent (12 percent) or good (34 percent) financial shape, while a majority say they are in only fair (35 percent) or poor (19 percent) financial shape.

Read the report.

Read the topline questionnaire, including methodology.


The PRRI/The Atlantic Poll was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with The Atlantic. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between March 30, 2016, and April 3, 2016. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 2,033 adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (1,220 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.5 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The design effect for the survey is 1.3.

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.