Trump’s many big­oted sup­port­ers

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— In a Repub­li­can de­bate last month, Don­ald Trump was asked whether his claim that “Is­lam hates us” means all 1.6 bil­lion Mus­lims world­wide hate the United States.

“I mean a lot of ‘em,” Trump replied, as some in the crowd — Trump sup­port­ers, pre­sum­ably — laughed and ap­plauded.

That ugly mo­ment comes to mind in de­scrib­ing how many of Trump’s sup­port­ers have big­oted mo­ti­va­tions: Not all — but a lot of ‘em.

Just as it’s un­fair to paint all Trump back­ers as prej­u­diced, it’s im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore a grow­ing vol­ume of pub­lic-opinion data show­ing that a large num­ber of his sup­port­ers are in­deed driven by racial or xeno­pho­bic an­i­mus.

A Pew Re­search Cen­ter na­tional poll re­leased Thurs­day found that 59 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers na­tion­wide think that an in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple from dif­fer­ent races, eth­nic groups and na­tion­al­i­ties makes the United States a bet­ter place; only 8 per­cent say this makes Amer­ica worse. But among Trump back­ers, 39 per­cent say di­ver­sity im­proves Amer­ica, while 42 per­cent say it makes no dif­fer­ence and 17 per­cent say it ac­tu­ally makes Amer­ica worse. Sup­port­ers of GOP ri­vals Ted Cruz and John Ka­sich were sig­nif­i­cantly more up­beat on di­ver­sity.

This was no anom­aly. The week be­fore, my Wash­ing­ton Post col­leagues Max Ehren­fre­und and Scott Cle­ment re­ported on a Post/ABC News poll that asked whether peo­ple thought it more of a prob­lem that African-Amer­i­cans and Lati­nos are “los­ing out be­cause of pref­er­ences for whites” or whether whites are “los­ing out be­cause of pref­er­ences for blacks and His­pan­ics.”

Trump had the sup­port of 34 per­cent of Repub­li­can-lean­ing vot­ers over­all, but among those who said that whites are los­ing out, 43 per­cent sup­ported Trump. Ehren­fre­und and Cle­ment did a fur­ther anal­y­sis find­ing that racial anx­i­ety was at least as im­por­tant as eco­nomic anx­i­ety — the fac­tor most com­monly as­so­ci­ated with Trump back­ers — in pre­dict­ing sup­port for Trump. Though the two fac­tors were sta­tis­ti­cally close, those “who voiced con­cerns about white sta­tus ap­peared to be even more likely to sup­port Trump than those who said they were strug­gling eco­nom­i­cally.”

Other, some­what re­lated at­tributes may be as or more pre­dic­tive of whether some­body will sup­port Trump: ap­proval of de­port­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, strong feel­ings that the gov­ern­ment is dys­func­tional, and sup­port for ban­ning Mus­lims from en­ter­ing Amer­ica.

But Cle­ment, the Post’s polling man­ager, told me: “What was strik­ing to me

WASH­ING­TON

in an­a­lyz­ing the data is that even af­ter con­trol­ling for a va­ri­ety of de­mo­graph­ics and at­ti­tudes [in­clud­ing all those above], be­liev­ing whites are los­ing out con­tin­ued to be a key pre­dic­tor of Trump sup­port. ... Its im­por­tance per­sisted un­der a wide range of sce­nar­ios.”

This, in turn, con­firms pre­vi­ous find­ings. Ear­lier this year, Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Irvine po­lit­i­cal scientist Michael Tesler, cit­ing data from RAND Corp.’s Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion Panel Sur­vey, found that “Trump per­forms best among Amer­i­cans who ex­press more re­sent­ment to­ward African-Amer­i­cans and im­mi­grants and who tend to eval­u­ate whites more fa­vor­ably than mi­nor­ity groups.”

Trump’s sup­port­ers over­all tend to be older, dis­pro­por­tion­ately male, less likely to have a col­lege de­gree and more likely to be suf­fer­ing eco­nom­i­cally. But race is an ever-present fac­tor. Trump sup­port, it has been shown, is high in ar­eas where the num­ber of racist search queries on Google is also high. The Post’s Jeff Guo has doc­u­mented that Trump per­forms best in ar­eas where the mid­dle-aged white death-rate is highest, that he ef­fec­tively chan­nels “white suf­fer­ing into po­lit­i­cal sup­port.”

Var­i­ous polling of more du­bi­ous method­ol­ogy has found that Trump sup­port­ers are more likely to sup­port the Con­fed­er­ate flag, op­pose Abraham Lin­coln’s Eman­ci­pa­tion Procla­ma­tion and sup­port the Ja­panese in­tern­ment camps of World War II. But Thurs­day’s poll by non­par­ti­san Pew, a well-re­spected out­fit, finds an­tipa­thy to­ward mi­nori­ties as well: Sixty-nine per­cent of Trump sup­port­ers say im­mi­grants bur­den the coun­try, and Trump sup­port­ers are sig­nif­i­cantly more likely than other Repub­li­can vot­ers to want il­le­gal im­mi­grants de­ported, to fa­vor a wall along the Mex­i­can bor­der, and to sup­port ex­tra scrutiny of Mus­lims in Amer­ica.

Some Trump sup­port­ers may not be overt about (or even con­scious of) racial mo­ti­va­tions. One in­di­ca­tion: Trump sup­port is higher in au­to­mated or on­line polls than in sur­veys con­ducted by a live in­ter­viewer — about five per­cent­age points, ac­cord­ing to a study by the polling firm Morn­ing Con­sult. One pos­si­ble fac­tor is a “so­cial de­sir­abil­ity bias” that leads them to tell an in­ter­viewer not what they be­lieve but what they think is ac­cept­able in so­ci­ety.

This may mean some Trump sup­port­ers feel a sense of shame — and that’s good. Trump makes big­ots feel safe to come out of the shad­ows. But that doesn’t ex­on­er­ate them.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@ wash­post.com.

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