Estranged in America: Both Sides Feel Lost and Left Out

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“Trump is continually stoking these feelings of resentment, of loss,” said Daniel Cox, the research director with the Public Religion Research Institute. “If you’re already primed to feel that way, getting a sort of regular dose of that kind of rhetoric I think would cause you to continue to believe it.”

P.R.R.I. surveyed people about whether they felt like strangers in their own country shortly before the 2016 election, and again in 2017. The share of white men with no college degree saying this didn’t decline as a result of Mr. Trump’s election — it inched up to 49 percent from 48 percent.

The share of African-Americans saying the same rose to 59 percent from 48 percent (almost identical to what Times polls have found). Mr. Cox suggests, though, that while this sense of estrangement has been politically valuable to Mr. Trump in animating Republican voters, the same probably won’t be true for Democrats. Feelings of loss on the left — a weakening of values around voting rights, abortion rights, LGBT tolerance — aren’t as easily bound together in a singular cultural narrative.

The fact that “feeling like a stranger in your own land” can encompass all of these values is part of what makes it a powerful indicator of the American mood. The idea touches something more fundamental than policy preferences, more personal than how people view individual leaders.

“This does get at something a little bit deeper, that ‘I’m really troubled by — insert your own thing,’ ” said Patrick Ruffini, a Republican pollster. “ ‘I’m troubled by these political divisions, I’m troubled by how things are going culturally, I’m troubled by crime and the lack of moral fiber.’ I don’t think this sort of limits you.”

There may even be something hopeful in the fact that many Americans are deeply troubled about something — if not the same thing.

“It is evidence of a healthy process,” said Heather Cox Richardson, a historian at Boston College. In the 1850s and the 1920s, she said, similar moments of widespread disaffection and anger with powerful elites led to broad grass-roots movements that gave way, in their time, to the birth of the Republican Party and later the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. “It is also evidence,” she said, “of an exceedingly dangerous process for the people who are in power.”


Nate Cohn contributed research.

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