American politics: it’s all about race

Great piece from Thomas Edsall summing up all the great recent political science research on race and putting in the context of a book Edsall himself wrote on race and politics way back in 1992:

Poll data suggests that Trump is driving Democratic liberals further left and conservative Republicans further right on a key test of racial attitudes.

Michael Tesler, a political scientist at the University of California-Irvine and the author of the 2016 book “Post Racial or Most Racial,” writes in “Racial Attitudes and American Politics,” a chapter in a forthcoming book:

Democratic and Republican voters do not simply disagree about what the government should do on racially charged issues like immigration and affirmative action, they now inhabit increasingly separate realities about race in America.

The growing alignment between racial attitudes and public opinion, Tesler continues, “has polarized the electorate and helped make American politics increasingly vitriolic.”

Racial attitudes have, in turn, become indelibly linked to partisan identification and “party identification influences just about everything in contemporary American society,” Tesler writes:

Partisanship is not only the most important determinant of our vote choices and policy preferences, but it shapes countless other beliefs and behaviors. Party identification has even been linked to who we find attractive and who we decide to marry, how we perceive objective conditions like the unemployment rate and federal budget deficit, which neighborhoods we want to live in, and the type of TV shows and cars we like.

Because of this, Tesler argues, “the racialization of party identification is by itself the racialization of American politics and society.”

Ryan Enos, a Harvard political scientist notes that

The pull of racial attitudes seems to be moving both directions — so that racial conservatives are being drawn into the GOP and racial liberals are being drawn into the Democratic Party…

Tesler and many other academics use a set of polling questions to determine the intensity of what they call “racial resentment.” Whites who score high in racial resentment have consistently voted in higher percentages for Republican presidential candidates.

“From 1988 to 2012 average white resentment scores were very stable, but in 2016 something quite notable happened,” Tesler explained by email. Referring to data from American National Election Studies, Tesler pointed out that

White resentment was significantly lower in 2016 than had ever been recorded in the ANES. It’s not just the ANES or resentment, either. Across several surveys and attitudes, the country has grown significantly more liberal on several questions related to race, immigration, Islam and gender since Trump’s campaign.

The shift to the left was not, however, across the board. It was driven by one group: Democrats and voters who lean toward the Democratic Party. [emphasis mine]

“This growing tolerance is largely confined to Democrats and Democratic leaning Independents,” Tesler wrote, adding that

Democrats have grown more tolerant as a backlash against Trumpism. It also means that while the country is growing more tolerant, they’re also more polarized over race and ethnicity…

In “The Distorting Effects of Racial Animus on Proximity Voting in the 2016 Elections,” Carlos Algara and Isaac Haley, political scientists at the University of California at Davis, show how powerful race has become in mobilizing support for Republicans: “Not only did Trump’s frequent invocations of race in the 2016 campaign prime voters with high levels of racial animus to evaluate the presidential contest in racial terms,” they write, but the increased salience of race in the 2016 campaign “percolated to relatively low-information congressional contests as well.”

The result, Algara and Haley show, is that voters liberal on issues other than race defect “to Republican candidates up and down the ticket when they harbor racial animus.” Racial animosity, they write, hurts both black and white Democratic candidates: “Racial animus (at least when salient) harms Democratic candidates across the board.”

Let’s end like this.  Not all Republicans are racists.  But a disturbing amount of Republician electoral support and an increasing amount of Republican electoral support is motivated by white racial resentment.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to American politics: it’s all about race

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Clearly the never Trumpers should join the Democratic Party. Strategically, they could be most effective in moderating any far left influence and keep the middle stronger. At this time, the middle without the left is pretty powerless.

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