Why Donald Trump is losing support from whites without college degrees
SOME MIGHT have thought that, as president, Donald Trump would abandon the racially divisive campaign strategy he adopted in 2016. If anything, he has pursued it even more tenaciously. In July Mr Trump called Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate”. Days later, speaking at Mount Rushmore, he described efforts to remove Confederate monuments in the South—considered by many to be symbols of white supremacy—as “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history”. After the police shooting of Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, sparked protests and riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Mr Trump warned that if he were not re-elected, America’s suburbs would be “overrun” with “looters” and low-income housing projects (and, by implication, the people who live there).
Similar rhetoric has helped Mr Trump win over less-educated white voters in the past. According to an analysis by The Economist of polling data from the University of California, Los Angeles and Democracy Fund, a charity, this group tends to be less tolerant of minorities (they are less likely to acknowledge the influence of slavery and discrimination on the economic fortunes of black families, for example). Such attitudes are highly predictive of voting behaviour. We estimate that among voters who ranked in the highest 25th percentile on questions about race—a group social scientists might call racially “resentful”—89% voted for Mr Trump in 2016. Among voters in the bottom quarter, just 5% plumped for the Republican candidate.
But Mr Trump has been losing ground with the demographic group long thought to be the most racist. According to the survey, dubbed “Nationscape”, which polled more than 300,000 voters between July 2019 and July 2020, the president’s vote margin among whites without university degrees has fallen by half since 2016, from 27 percentage points to just 13. This raises an uncomfortable question for the incumbent: given his current strategy of exploiting racial division, how can he be losing support among his most racially resentful voters?
There are at least two possible explanations. First, according to the Nationscape survey, Americans have become markedly less racially resentful over the past year (the average of scores of racial attitudes, calculated by The Economist, has fallen from 0.45 to 0.41, on a scale from 0 to 1). Data from the Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, show a similar downward trend in white racial animosity since 2016. This may have weakened one of Mr Trump’s chief selling points. Indeed, the Nationscape survey data show that the relationship between the degree of racial resentment and support for Mr Trump has changed little since 2016; if anything, it has become stronger. But as the number of highly resentful people has fallen, so has the president’s share of the vote.
Sexism offers another clue. The Nationscape poll also asked respondents about their views on women, such as whether women can think as logically as men. These responses were also predictive of support for Mr Trump in 2016, when he ran against Hillary Clinton. The data show that 71% of those in the top quarter on our measure of sexism voted for Mr Trump, compared with just 25% of those in the bottom quarter. Sexism appears to be playing less of a role this time around. Mr Trump’s support among the most sexist voters has fallen by four percentage points, whereas his support among the least sexist has not changed.
Mr Trump has a daunting task ahead of him. The Nationscape survey suggests that, although racial attitudes remain salient to many Americans, there are nevertheless fewer racially resentful voters this year than in 2016. Much of that decline came over the summer as protests against police brutality and broader racial injustice spread throughout the country, swaying both “woke” voters and non-college whites. A strategy predicated on firing up this group, rather than appealing to moderates in the centre, may prove difficult. Meanwhile Joe Biden, Mr Trump’s Democratic opponent, has managed to boost his support among more sexist voters who were reluctant to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Author: | Post link: https://www.economist.com/node/21791842?fsrc=gp_en
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