Among the details, the number of whites who say “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage” has sunk nine points since last August. The percentages of whites, and white Republicans, who strongly agree that “white people are currently under attack in this country” have each dropped by roughly 25 points from the same time two years ago.
David A. Graham: Trump’s white identity politics appeals to two different groups
It isn’t entirely clear what is motivating these changes. As Ashley Jardina, a political scientist at Duke, told me recently, there has been a 10 percent drop in the number of Americans who espouse white identity politics since Trump entered office. Many members of that group interpreted the election of Barack Obama, the first black president, as a threat to their group, and with Obama out of office, they may feel less threatened. Jardina also noted, though, that Trump’s most explicit racist rhetoric turns off voters who may feel threatened but don’t exhibit classical racial prejudice.
But the Trump era has also radicalized Democrats, and especially white Democrats, who by some measures are actually more liberal on race than fellow Democrats who are minorities. Reuters found that more Democrats say blacks are treated unfairly at work and by the police than in 2016—remarkable given how coverage of police violence toward African Americans has dropped in the past few years—while Republican attitudes have remained unchanged.
Meanwhile, opinion shifts like the ones on race appear elsewhere. Consider immigration, which is Trump’s signature issue—though it is also inextricable from race, especially given Trump’s focus on and rhetoric about Hispanic immigration.
Reuters found that white Americans are 19 percent more supportive of a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants than they were four years ago, and slightly less supportive of increased deportations. Other polls find related results. A record-high number of Americans—75 percent—said in 2018 that immigration is good for the United States. Although the Trump administration took steps last week to limit even legal immigration, the Trump presidency has seen an increase in the number of Americans who support more legal immigration—not just among Democrats, but even slightly among Republicans.
David A. Graham: Trump goes all in on racism
Trump, like other presidents but arguably more so, exerts a special type of gravity by virtue of his ability to set the topic of conversation. His fearmongering on immigration has led even Trump critics to argue that if moderates and liberals do not limit immigration, it will embolden hard-liners like Trump. Yet far from suggesting a large appetite for greater immigration restrictions that’s being unmet, the polling data suggest a large appetite for more immigration that’s going unfulfilled thanks to Trump’s aggressive rhetoric. Moreover, there’s been evidence of a backlash against the president’s invective since the first months of his term. Trump has managed to force a national conversation around immigration, but rather than bring people to his side, he has convinced them he’s wrong.