For Trump, appeals to white fears about race may be a tougher sell in
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[August 19, 2019]
By Chris Kahn
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald
Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric and focus on the grievances of white
voters helped him win the 2016 election. But a Reuters analysis of
public opinion over the last four years suggests that Trump's brand of
white identity politics may be less effective in the 2020 election
The analysis comes amid widespread criticism of Trump's racially charged
comments about four minority women lawmakers and the fallout from a mass
shooting of Hispanics in El Paso, Texas, that many Democratic
presidential candidates swiftly blamed on the president's rhetoric.
Reuters/Ipsos polling of 4,436 U.S. adults in July showed that people
who rejected racial stereotypes were more interested in voting in the
2020 general election than those who expressed stronger levels of
anti-black or anti-Hispanic biases. (For graphic on Americans' changing
views on race: https://tmsnrt.rs/2YPpVBW)
In 2016, it was the reverse. The Reuters analysis shows that Trump’s
narrow win came at a time when Americans with strong anti-black opinions
were the more politically engaged group. While Reuters did not measure
anti-Hispanic biases in 2016, political scientists say that people who
express them closely overlap with those who are biased against other
This year's poll found that among Americans who feel that blacks and
whites are equal, or that blacks are superior to whites, 82% expressed a
strong interest in voting in 2020. That was 7 percentage points higher
than people who feel strongly that whites are superior to blacks.
“There is some indication that racial liberals are more energized than
the racially intolerant,” said University of Michigan political
scientist Vincent Hutchings, who reviewed Reuters’ findings. “That would
seem to be good news for the Democrats and bad news for the
The July poll did have a silver lining for Trump. Most white Republicans
approve of his performance in office. And over the past four years they
have become increasingly supportive of his signature issue: expanding
the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Some 82% now support it compared
to 75% last year.
Trump is clearly still as popular as ever with conservatives who
dominate the predominantly white, working-class communities that helped
him win in 2016, said Duke University political scientist Ashley Jardina,
who also reviewed the poll findings.
In his 2016 campaign, Trump focused on the grievances of white voters
who feared the global economy was leaving them behind and who wanted
more restrictions on immigration. He employed put-downs of Latino
immigrants and inner-city, typically black, residents.
He said then that Mexicans were "murderers" and "rapists," and as
recently as last year, Trump labeled illegal immigration to the United
States an “invasion."
Trump has asserted repeatedly that his words are not meant to be
racially divisive. "I think my rhetoric ... brings people together," he
said earlier this month.
Responding to the Reuters polling analysis, a spokesman for Trump's
reelection campaign, Daniel Bucheli, said the president "enjoys broad
support from diverse groups of Americans, and this coalition of
supporters, to include minorities and first time voters, continues to
"If there is something we've come to learn about President Trump is that
he calls it like it is," Bucheli said, when asked about Trump's recent
comments about the lawmakers and others.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on the poll
The Reuters analysis also found that Americans were less likely to
express feelings of racial anxiety this year, and they were more likely
to empathize with African Americans. This was also true for white
Americans and whites without a college degree, who largely backed Trump
White Americans are also 19 percentage points more supportive of a path
to citizenship for illegal immigrants and 4 points less supportive of
increased deportations, when their responses from the July poll were
compared with a Reuters/Ipsos poll in January 2015.
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President Donald Trump speaks about U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar,
and the crowd responded with "send her back", at a campaign rally in
Greenville, North Carolina, U.S., July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan
The July 17-22 poll also found that 29% of whites agreed that
“America must protect and preserve its White European heritage,”
down 7 points from a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted in August 2017 and
9 points down from another Reuters/Ipsos poll in August 2018.
The poll also found that 17% of whites and 26% of white Republicans
said they strongly agree that “white people are currently under
attack in this country, a drop of about 6 points and 8 points
respectively from 2017.
Paula Ioanide, an expert in American race relations at Ithaca
College, said the poll findings were consistent with her research
that racial anxieties among whites peaked during the presidency of
Some white Americans “are not feeling as under attack as they did in
2016,” Ioanide said. With Trump in the White House, “they’ve seen a
kind of endorsement of the kinds of things that they wanted: A
restoration of a white identity that they previously had felt was
Reuters and its polling partner, Ipsos, developed its race poll with
political scientists at the University of Michigan and Duke
University, asking a series of questions that measured respondents'
perceptions of people from different racial backgrounds, the
treatment of blacks and whites in America and their interest in
voting in 2020.
For an explanation of the Reuters/Ipsos poll questionnaire, topline
and methodology, click here.
WIDENING DEMOCRAT VS REPUBLICAN GAP
Among whites who dominate the American electorate, the poll showed a
widening gap between the way Democrats and Republicans view race.
Some 28% of white Democrats said in the latest poll that “black
people are treated less fairly than white people” in the workplace,
compared with 5% of white Republicans. Some 59% of white Democrats
said blacks were treated less fairly by police, while 22% of white
The number of Democrats who said blacks were treated unfairly in the
workplace and by police grew by 8 points and 11 points, respectively
since 2016. There was almost no change, however, among white
White independents were more empathetic toward blacks than white
Republicans, but less empathetic than Democrats.
Michael Tesler, a political scientist at the University of
California, Irvine, said Trump may be influencing many Democrats and
Democrat-leaning independents in their views on race.
“They may not care that much about race initially, and then they see
Trump pushing on race so hard on race,” he said. “And so they push
Samantha Burkes, 36, of Bullhead City, Arizona said she was doing
just that when she rated blacks well above whites in terms of
intelligence, work ethic, manners, peacefulness and lawfulness in
the Reuters/Ipsos poll.
“I just wanted to express that I don’t think black people are worse
than white people,” said Burkes, a white Democrat who plans to vote
against Trump in 2020. “I’m just lashing out, really.”
(Reporting By Chris Kahn in New York, additional reporting by James
Oliphant in Washington, editing by Ross Colvin)
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