Monday, August 21, 2017

Hey, Maybe Racism and Xenophobia Aren't So Popular After All!


Debate continues on how to best understand the Trump phenomenon, turbocharged by the recent ugly events in Charlottesville. Was Trump's victory really mostly about racism or were other factors important as well? To the extent one believes the former, it's a little hard to understand the sharp fall in Trump's political popularity as he has become more openly racist. This puzzle was nicely encapsulated by David Atkins in a recent piece on the Washington Monthly website. Atkins says, consider these three statements about contemporary American politics:
1. Trump won the election with nearly 50% of the vote solely due to racism and bigotry, not other factors.
2. Trump has abandoned all other forms of populism except for racism and bigotry.
3. Trump has slid from nearly 50% approval down to under 35% since the election.
All of those statements cannot simultaneously be true, and align with current realities. At least one of them has to be wrong.
Since 2. and 3. appear to be true, then it is likely 1. that is not. Trump's ignoring the other populist priorities he ran on, while pumping up the volume on racist appeals, but he's not consolidating his support. Instead, he's losing altitude fast. Consider the results of a recent Marist poll of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Trump's approval rating in these states was 36, 33 and 33 percent, respectively. But he received 47, 48 and 47 percent of the vote in those states in 2016.

Even more disturbing from the Trumpian perspective should be what's happening to his white noncollege support. In 2016, he was supported by 62 percent of white noncollege voters in Michigan, 64 percent of this group in Pennsylvania and 62 percent in Wisconsin. But his approval rating today among this base demographic group is just 41, 44 and 38 percent, respectively, in these states.

These kind of ratings are potentially disastrous for Trump and his party. As public opinion trends suggest, unvarnished racism and xenophobia just aren't that popular in today's America. So the more Trump doubles down on this approach, the less popular he's likely to become. As the President himself might put it: Sad!

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