New York Times
By Toni Monkovic
March 8, 2016
Donald Trump has tended to fare worst in states that are mostly white.
That doesn’t mean he hasn’t had great success in appealing to white Republican primary voters — there’s no doubt of that — only that he generally does better in states that have higher percentages of nonwhites, particularly African-Americans.
Mr. Trump’s stances on, say, trade and Social Security, can strike a chord with voters. But studies have shown that his bigger appeal is as an authoritarian voice of the voiceless. Part of that dynamic is rallying people — particularly those who haven’t gone to college — who feel a resentment toward racial, ethnic and religious “others.”
As Michael Tesler and John Sides wrote for the Monkey Cage at The Washington Post last week: “Fifty years of research backs this up. Ethnocentric suspicions of minority groups in general, and attitudes about blacks in particular, influence whites’ opinions about many issues.”
Some social science research suggests that the simple fact that President Obama is black might have contributed to a sense of lost power and resentment among whites, and, of course, Mr. Trump first came to political prominence by questioning whether Mr. Obama was even a citizen.
An appeal to white identity tends to work better in areas where that identity is felt to be under threat. The South, where Mr. Trump has performed well, has long been known for racially polarized politics.
Race essentially predicts political affiliation there, with blacks lining up for Democrats and whites for Republicans. A state like Mississippi, whose population is around 37 percent black, is an obvious example. If even 25 percent of white Mississippians voted for Democrats, the state could tilt blue — and perhaps elect the state’s first black governor, or first black senator since Reconstruction.
Democratic strategists dream of a blue North Carolina and Florida, and further in the future, a blue Georgia or Arizona.
But few dream of a blue Mississippi. The numbers have long been locked in. For example, according to the 2012 Mississippi exit polls, 96 percent of blacks voted for President Obama, but 89 percent of whites voted for Mitt Romney, who won by 55 percent to 44 percent.
Political scientists have written about the importance of tipping points in ethnic strife or resentment around the globe. It occurs when one group grows big enough to potentially alter the power hierarchy. Mark Potok, senior fellow for the Southern Poverty Law Center, has said that “demographic change in this country is the single most important driver in the growth of hate groups and extremist groups.” He wrote last month, “Donald Trump’s demonizing statements about Latinos and Muslims have electrified the radical right, leading to glowing endorsements from white nationalist leaders such as Jared Taylor and former Klansman David Duke.”
Mr. Trump’s anti-immigration language lands with force for people who fear the browning of America. Within three or four decades, several reports have indicated, non-Hispanic whites will no longer make up a majority of the United States population. The psychological scientists Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson, working at Northwestern, studied whether people could become more politically conservative if they felt a threat to their status in the racial pecking order.
In their paper, they wrote that their experiments “provide striking evidence that perceived group-status threat, triggered by exposure to the majority-minority shift, increases whites’ endorsement of conservative political ideology and policy positions.”
What could change this feeling of anxiety and resentment? “In both experiments,” they wrote, “the addition of a simple paragraph stating that whites are likely to remain at the top of the future racial hierarchy in a majority-minority America eliminated the conservative shift.”
Studies have pointed to other correlations:
■ Robert Putnam, the Harvard political scientist and author, discovered a decade ago that increased diversity in communities is correlated with distrust between and within ethnic groups. (It was perhaps not what he had hoped to find.)
■ Greater racial diversity predicts less of a willingness to build a stronger social safety net: In other words, America would probably have more social spending if it were a whiter nation.
■ One of the bigger predictors of support for Mr. Trump is the belief that affirmative action is taking away jobs from whites and handing them to blacks.
■ Research by the Vanderbilt political scientists Marc Hetherington and Drew Engelhardt has helped shed light on one of the bigger puzzles of this primary cycle: the success of Mr. Trump among evangelicals. “Among white Southern Republicans, evangelicals exhibit higher levels of racial resentment than do Southern Republicans who are not evangelicals,” they wrote for The Cook Political Report.
If you set aside Mr. Trump’s defeat in Texas because it is Ted Cruz’s home state, Mr. Trump’s other losses in states have come in mostly white Iowa, Maine, Kansas, Alaska, Minnesota and Oklahoma. Oklahoma, which is also in Mr. Cruz’s home region, has the highest percentage of African-Americans among those states, around 8 percent, according to the 2010 census. Blacks make up about 13 percent of the United States population over all. Support for Mr. Trump was also probably limited in some of these states because they held caucuses, which tend to favor Mr. Cruz.
My colleague Nate Cohn has also identified North Dakota, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, South Dakota, Idaho and Hawaii as other unpromising states for Mr. Trump. He narrowly won in Vermont, but the total vote (50 percent) of the establishment candidates Marco Rubio and John Kasich was unusually strong. Also, Colorado would have set up as a perfect state for Mr. Rubio had a contest been held there. Of these states, Nebraska has the highest black population by percentage, at 4.5 percent.
An interesting variation is found in Appalachian states like West Virginia and Kentucky, which tend to have small black populations but are still fertile ground for Mr. Trump. Racial polarization in voting there is relatively high, and it’s also a region where racially charged web search are more common. In a Gallup poll this week in which residents of every state were asked if their city or area was a good place to live for racial and ethnic minorities, West Virginia finished last.
A map of voting patterns based on racial polarization suggests that Mr. Trump will not be able to mine as much resentment in the West. The industrial Midwest and Northeast, where memories of strife and white flight in urban areas are not that distant, may offer more opportunities. Immigration concerns were a potent weapon in New Hampshire. Mr. Trump’s giant victory in Massachusetts is still something of a mystery, but as one reader said, “Don’t forget the antibusing protests.”
Marc Ambinder, writing for The Daily News, argued that part of the response to all this should be empathy — for working-class whites who have been left behind economically and whose resentment has been exploited politically. Consider the most chilling correlation: that Mr. Trump is faring very well where middle-aged whites are dying fastest.
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