We’re only days away from the Iowa caucus, when the first votes will be cast in this year’s US presidential race. And seemingly inexplicably, Donald Trump looks like he might actually win it.
I wanted to find out more about him and the people who support him. So I picked up his book, Crippled America, in which he outlines his “manifesto” and repeatedly explains how many “beautiful hotels” he has built. Needless to say, it isn’t too heavy on the policy detail.
After finishing the book though, I headed over to social network for books GoodReads to log the fact I had completed it, I noticed that Trump was getting a tonne of five-star reviews.
And this made me curious. “Trump fans can actually read?”, I sneered with my typical liberal arrogance. Who are these crazy people? What else do they like to read? What else is on the bookshelf of a Donald Trump fan? Surely these Trump fans must be aliens, with whom I have nothing in common?
To find out, I wrote some code to download the virtual bookshelves of everyone who had given Trump’s book five stars – that was 154 people at the time I did the digging. Then I compared their shelves and totted up which books appeared most often.
The Typical Trump Shelf
So what is on the Trump fan’s shelf? The three Hunger Games novels top the list. Who’d have thought that people who would vote for Donald Trump would also enjoy a dystopian future?
These titles are followed by 1984 and To Kill A Mockingbird. Also in the top 20 most common books are the Harry Potter series, The Great Gatsby, The Diary of Anne Frank and The Hobbit. But it isn’t just children’s books and what you were supposed to read in English class. The highest ranking nonfiction title is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, with Killing Lincoln and Killing Reagan, both by Fox News blowhard Bill O’Reilly, coming in close behind.
Looking further down the list shows a number of other non-fiction books that might appeal to those on the right, including Chris Kyle’s American Sniper autobiography, Decision Points, George W Bush’s memoir, and rival presidential hopeful Ben Carson’s book, A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties. There are also signs that Trump fans want to get rich just like The Donald, as a book called Think and Grow Rich and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change appear.
The Cruz Comparison
This was surprising to me: Trump fans mostly read children’s books? I wondered if this was atypical – so to compare I ran the same code on the five star reviews for A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America by Trump’s nearest rival, Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
On the Cruz fan’s bookshelf, the first Hunger Games novel still tops the list – but the most common books on the shelf are not kids’ books, but the same “classic” literature as Trump fans consume: 1984, The Great Gatsby et al. What’s interesting though is that Harry Potter appears less popular (relatively speaking) amongst Cruz fans – with The Chronicles of Narnia ranking higher. Perhaps this is reflection of the fact that Cruz’s base is much more evangelical than Trump’s?
Cruz also includes more Conservative-leaning non-fiction than Trump. For example, in addition to Decision Points and Unbroken, as featured on Trump’s shelf, there’s Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto and Plunder and Defeat, both by Conservative talk radio host Mark Levin. Sarah Palin’s book, Going Rogue, was also popular among Cruz fans (so perhaps her recent endorsement of Trump will actually make a difference?).
Looking further down the list too, Cruz fans do appear to be more into traditional Conservative polemics, with books titled Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America, It IS About Islam: Exposing the Truth About ISIS, Al Qaeda, Iran, and the Caliphate and Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning all featuring.
So what have we learned?
What do these bookshelves tell us? We need to be careful not to read too much into it, as it was a relatively small dataset of self-selecting people who read enough to join a social network about books. Essentially though, it appears to point towards more evidence for how Trump tends to be framed: His fans appear less traditionally political – as they’re interested in children’s books – than Ted Cruz’s, and that Cruz’s fans definitely appear markedly more religious than Trump’s, given the high-ranking books with religious themes.
But perhaps the bigger thing to note – especially for sneery liberals like myself – is that contrary to the caricatures in our minds, Trump supporters are not aliens. They exist in the same universe and they broadly consume the same culture too. Continuing to assume otherwise won’t change how anyone votes.