Poverty Doesn’t Make You Racist

Since the 2016 elections, Democrats have endlessly debated how to reach the “white working class”—a demographically imprecise group alleged to have gone for Trump in big numbers. As multiple studies have shown, all white voters are in fact intensely polarized into two groups: one, open to progressive appeals, that recognizes racism is a reality in our society, and a second group, unfortunately larger, that thinks racial inequality barely exists and was mobilized by Trump’s racist appeals.

Reaching the second group while maintaining a commitment to racial equality will be hard in the short term. But in contrast to the media stereotype of the Trump base—downwardly mobile, poor, and/or working-class people seduced by racist appeals—it turns out that white voters who support anti-racist policies generally have less income than their more racist peers, as data released recently from the General Social Survey makes clear.

High-school-educated white voters who agree economic inequality between black and white people is “mainly due to discrimination” generally support Democrats and basically didn’t move toward Trump in 2016 from Romney four years earlier (although some defected to third-party candidates that year). Those who don’t believe discrimination is an important cause of inequality overwhelmingly already supported Republicans—and shifted even more to Trump compared to Romney four years earlier. See the graphs below for the data comparing groups labeled here “Recognizes Racism” (ie. believe discrimination drives inequality) versus “Racism Denial” (those who don’t).

Dissent Magazine