These days, good news is rare, so a recent article in The Atlantic–-one of my favorite publications–brightened my entire week.
It appears that Trump has “reshaped” American public opinion, but not in the way I feared he would.
Recent polling shows that Donald Trump has managed to reshape American attitudes to a remarkable extent on a trio of his key issues—race, immigration, and trade.
There’s just one catch: The public is turning against Trump’s views.
The article noted Trump’s increasingly obvious racism, characterizing it as a strategic effort to firm up his base. (I’m less inclined to apply the word “strategy” to anything Trump does–I think as he gets more and more out of his depth, he becomes more unhinged and his true “character” emerges…) Whatever the impetus, however, instinctive or strategic, it isn’t working.
Quite the opposite, if survey research is to be believed.
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 in 2016.
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.
The article reports that there has been a 10 percent drop in the number of Americans who espouse white identity politics since Trump entered office, and that Trump’s increasingly explicit racist rhetoric turns off voters who may express some degree of racial anxiety, but who aren’t classical bigots.
The article also notes that Trump has radicalized Democrats, especially white Democrats. By several measures, they have become more liberal on race –on some measures, more liberal than Democrats of color.
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.
When it comes to immigration, which the article calls “Trump’s signature issue” (and which is clearly race-based),
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.
Ironically, as the article reports, although Trump has managed to force a national conversation around the issue of immigration, rather than bringing more people to his anti-immigrant views, he has convinced them he’s wrong.
And it isn’t simply his bigotry. His obvious ignorance on issues of economics and trade has also moved public opinion.
One big problem for Trump is that voters have now gotten a chance to see him implement ideas that seemed novel or at least worth a shot during the campaign, and they don’t like what they’re seeing in practice. A trade war with China might have seemed worthwhile in summer 2016, but now that there’s actually one being fought, the public is having second thoughts, and fears of a recession are growing. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released yesterday found that 64 percent of Americans think free trade is good, up from 57 in 2017, 55 in 2016, and 51 in 2015. Meanwhile, the percentage who say free trade is bad has dropped 10 points since 2017.
As reassuring as these results are, they won’t mean diddly-squat unless the people who hold anti-Trump opinions go to the polls in 2020. As I have insisted ad nauseam, the name of the electoral game is turnout, and in 2020 that is truer than ever.
Fortunately, the Atlantic article even had some encouragement on that score.
Raw polling can, admittedly, be somewhat misleading on its own. Progressives have for years lamented the gap between the fairly liberal policies that the public says it favors and those that its elected representatives actually pursue. One reason for that is not everyone votes, and those who don’t vote tend toward the left.
But the Reuters poll offers reason to believe that the shifts it documents are directly relevant to the coming election. The poll found 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.” That wasn’t the case in 2016, when Americans who held strong antiblack views were more politically engaged.
Again, I repeat: we shouldn’t waste time talking to voters in Trump’s base. Anyone who still supports him is clearly beyond reason. Instead, we need to get every non-racist, non-crazy person who cares about this country–especially those who took a pass in 2016– to the polls!
America’s future depends on turnout.