Trump’s racist attacks are catnip to the Republican base, but that doesn’t make them a 2020 winner

Washington Post / YouTube Trump holds rally in Ohio...
Washington Post / YouTube

Since Donald Trump launched his racist attacks on the Democratic women of color in The Squad, pundits and political reporters have been obsessing over one particularly gross question: Does racism help Donald Trump’s re-election chances? It’s pretty much a given that racism will help whip up Trump’s base to turn out to vote in 2020. But what about the Democratic base? What about independents? It’s horrific that this is even a question, and that the media discourse has centered not around how evil Trump’s strategy is but around whether it’s smart. But for the record? Evidence suggests that U.S. voters outside Trump’s base are not that racist.

Researchers from Cornell University’s Roper Center for Public Opinion Research “find that the backlash from the president’s racist rhetoric is likely to offset any electoral benefit from Trump’s base.” That comes from two sources. Democrats may be more likely to vote in a backlash to Trump’s overt racism, and Peter Enns and Jonathon Schuldt’s research found that a majority of independents have “benevolent” attitudes toward black people and immigrants and so may be turned off by racist appeals. So while people who strongly approve of Trump “mostly indicate higher levels of racial resentment,” the numbers don’t actually say that racism is a big winner. Though it’s a lot closer than it should be.

Enns and Schuldt note that this is consistent with a recent poll finding independents disapproving of Trump’s “go back” tweets. They write, “We also analyzed all likely voters and those who were undecided during the 2018 midterm campaign. No matter how we looked at the data, we could not find any clear evidence that racist comments are a net benefit for Trump’s re-election chances.”

Racism is a great strategy for getting the Republican base excited, which is a fact deserving of endless attention and condemnation. But all the pundits who want to make it into some kind of great general election strategy should probably take a close look at what in their own attitudes makes racism seem like such a winner.

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