Reviving Reagan

As a trial consultant, finding a single question to ask prospective jurors that can tell me as much as possible about each juror is something I value a great deal.  Over the years, one question that has proven to be very insightful is the following:

         “Name the public figure, living or dead, that you admire the most, and why.”

Anecdotally, the most popular responses are: Martin Luther King, Jr., JFK, Oprah, Lincoln and Reagan.  Beyond those, the responses range dramatically from the well known to the completely obscure. 

I picked a jury in a relatively small Texas Gulf Coast county recently.  We had forty-eight jurors in the panel and we administered a questionnaire that included the public figure question. 

Five of forty-eight jurors listed Ronald Reagan.  Even though Ronald Reagan is, and has been a popular response over the years, almost 10% of the panel listing him as their most admired public figure is remarkable.  I’ve seen panels twice that size with half as many “Reagan” responses. 

George W. Bush was the only other conservative political figure cited and only by one juror.   Further compounding the curious results is the fact that as Texas counties go, this one is relatively Democratic, with the Republican Presidential candidate winning the county in every general election since 2000, but by slim margins ranging from of 51% (2000 and 2012) to 57% (2004).

Extrapolating past election results to the current panel, we can somewhat safely conclude that approximately 55% of the panel is Republican (or would at least vote Republican).  So, if we exclude the 45% of the panel that is non-Republican, we are left with approximately 26 Republican voting jurors.  Assuming that each of the five jurors who listed Reagan as their most admired public figure are Republican, almost one-fifth of the jurors who are Republican listed Reagan.

Not one juror listed Donald Trump.

Why the big “Reagan bump?”  Why are Republicans, at least in this small sample, pining for Reagan in such numbers?  One could argue nostalgia in the wake of Nancy Reagan’s death, but this data was collected before her passing. 

Maybe it’s because Ronald Reagan was considered an outsider at the outset of his foray into political life, or because he had a larger than life personality.  But those things can certainly be said about Trump as well. 

Instead, perhaps the “Reagan bump” in this sample is attributable to the ways in which Ronald Reagan was very different from Donald Trump.  Trump may want to align himself with the lauded former President, even stealing his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” and filing for Trademark protection on a phrase he didn’t originate, but the differences between the two men are significant.

Reagan was nice.  He was gentlemanly.  As noted by Stu Spencer, Reagan’s campaign manager and Ken Khachigian, Reagan’s Chief Speechwriter:

“Calling his GOP opponents (or anyone for that matter) ‘losers,’ ‘morons,’ ‘dummies’ or ‘idiots’ would have been unthinkable for Reagan. Those words didn’t exist in his vocabulary—even for Democrats who called him names. He once wrote a note to us saying we had done ‘d— good,’ not being able to bring himself to spell out the word ‘damn.’ Meanness was not in Reagan’s soul.” – RealClearPolitics.com

Reagan was thoughtful.  His ideas came from studying, reading and listening to a wide spectrum of experts.  He also sought out advice from others. 

But, as importantly, his idea of America came from a solid understanding of the bedrock principles that our democracy is built on.  Long before he entered politics, he served as President of the Screen Actors Guild.  He served in that role during a time of fervent anti-communism and he testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Hollywood Blacklist period about communists in the United States.  His comments underscore an understanding about American principles that Donald Trump clearly doesn’t have:

“Sir, I detest, I abhor their philosophy, but I detest more than that their tactics, which are those of the fifth column, and are dishonest, but at the same time I never as a citizen want to see our country become urged, by either fear or resentment of this group, that we ever compromise with any of our democratic principles through that fear or resentment. I still think that democracy can do it.”

Despite what 24-hour news channels might have us believe about Trump’s invincibility and America’s supposed approval of his behavior, my small but significant findings make me think otherwise. Trump’s supporters make up a fraction of a fraction of the electorate, by some estimates as low as 13% of all voters.  And, as my recent jury selection seems to indicate, many Republicans are longing for civility, decorum and a respect for our democratic principles.  As one juror stated in response to the public figure question:

“Reagan-  ‘nuff said”.

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