In some ways, Amin U. Sarkar’s conservatism makes sense. He’s a professor of economics at Alabama A&M University, where he tries to impress upon his students the importance of free-market trade to a thriving economy. He is against abortion and is the proud father of a United States Air Force veteran.
He’s been supporting the Republican Party with his vote — and his money — for about 20 years, and like many Republicans, he says he’s eager for a candidate who is not mired in the Washington establishment.
"Politicians should come to politics for public service and then they should go back where they came from," Mr. Sarkar said. "This was the idea of America I learned since I moved to this country, but that is not the case these days."
But in an election cycle characterized by a sharp divide between highly and poorly educated voters and particularly harsh rhetoric surrounding immigrants, Mr. Sarker doesn’t fit the profile of a typical Trump supporter.
He belongs to three groups with whom Trump has struggled to gain any significant ground: academics, immigrants, and Muslims. In fact, Muslim and immigrant groups have spoken forcefully against the Republican candidate’s promise to build a wall on the U.S.- Mexico border, and his call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants.
Mr. Sarkar said that he avoids discussing politics at work — a habit he picked up from his former professors at the University of California at Berkeley, where he earned his Ph.D. Some of those academics would go on to work as policy advisers in President Bill Clinton’s administration, but Mr. Sarkar said never would have guessed their political leanings from the time he spent with them in the classroom.
"We never got any idea who is supporting which political party or which candidate," he said. "So I try to follow that tradition."
As for Mr. Trump’s comments about Muslims and immigrants, they don’t worry Mr. Sarkar. The same media outlets criticizing those remarks have stoked Islamophobia for more than a decade with their warped portrayal of Muslims, he said, and they distort Trump’s words just as much. Mr. Sarkar said he’s not surprised when Trump’s critics pluck one of his sentences out of context and use it to make their own point. After all, Islamophobes do it to the Quran all the time.
Bracing for Blowback
Last month Christine P. Ries signed an open letter published by a group of writers and academics endorsing Donald Trump for president. But first, Ms. Ries said, she had to take a deep breath.
She was steeling herself for the blowback. The economics professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology said she had since received at least 10 comments about her choice for president.
"Several of them have asked me whether I could actually be voting for Trump, as if even though I’m a conservative, I couldn’t possibly be voting for him," Ms. Ries said. "I get the feeling that there’s a kind of moral superiority, like in spite of all your conservatism, you can’t even be going this far."
But she is. For Ms. Ries, also a major proponent of free trade, Mr. Trump is the candidate who will best advance that aim. He has criticized many of America's existing agreements as unfavorable and also proposed high tariffs on foreign goods to encourage U.S. manufacturing.
She said that while she wouldn’t mind talking to her colleagues about her political opinions, she often avoids it because the conversation would only result in her derision.
At conferences or special programs in her college, the College of Liberal Arts, Ms. Ries said, all the speakers are usually liberal or progressive. Although she does a lot of public speaking, she said the college has not invited her to speak at an event during her 20 years there.
"When somebody raises something in the university, I always have to assume that if I answer the way I believe or the way that I know, that that person is going to think less of me and possibly discriminate against me in the future," Ms. Ries said. "And so every single time, I have to ask myself: Is it really important for me to be honest here, or is it important for me to avoid this discussion?"
For Ms. Ries’s part, she usually decides it’s not worth it.
Joseph A. DeLucia doesn’t usually vote along party lines. In 2008 he voted for Barack Obama for president. But now that he’s prepared to cast his vote for Mr. Trump, Mr. DeLucia says the reaction from his colleagues has been more hostile.
Mr. DeLucia doesn’t necessarily feel uncomfortable disclosing he’s a Trump supporter at work, but his opinions aren’t welcome either, he said. "There’s certainly no open discussion," Mr. DeLucia said. "I say I support Trump and the conversation pretty much ends there. It’s, ‘How could you support him?’"
As an associate professor of surgery at Saint Louis University, he was attracted to Mr. Obama’s ideas about health care, but he said he became disillusioned when the candidate’s promises never became policy. Mr. DeLucia said that while he liked the idea of a single-payer system, what the Affordable Care Act ended up providing was simply a collection of companies to choose from. Now Mr. DeLucia thinks Mr. Trump will use his experience as a businessman to strengthen the economy.
If Mr. Trump appears on the television in the doctors’ lounge and a colleague wonders aloud who could possibly support Trump, Mr. DeLucia will pipe up and let his colleagues know that he does. But the conversation probably won’t go any further than that.
"I’m amazed that it’s met with such negativity and closed-mindedness, which should never happen in academia," Mr. DeLucia said. "It certainly makes you reluctant to say anything when you get such a negative response, but it also causes me to have less respect for my colleagues that respond in that manner."