Republican presidential candidates, from left, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

Donald Trump’s success in the Republican presidential campaign has surprised most political observers. But this does not mean his success is inexplicable. We know, for example, that support for Trump is strongly related to concern about immigration as well as to racial prejudice and white ethnocentrism. Almost 20 percent of Trump supporters disagree with the Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the United States.

Now, data from the recently released 2016 American National Election Studies (ANES) adds yet more evidence. These data show that ethnocentrism is strongly related to support for Trump — more so than for any other Republican candidate. Trump support stands apart in how much it derives from attitudes about non-white minority groups.

The data were collected online by YouGov between Jan. 22 and 28, and the data set was released Feb. 23. Respondents were asked to rate various groups — such as blacks, Latinos, homosexuals, feminists, transgender people and Muslims — on 0-100 scales. These ratings of different groups can be combined into a single dimension that captures favorability toward these minority groups. This is similar to how Cindy Kam and Donald Kinder, and my own research, measure ethnocentrism.

White Republicans exhibited more ethnocentrism than white Democrats. The difference was not small: The averages are 20 percentage points apart.


How does ethnocentrism play into the race among Republican nominees?

The graph below shows that, among Republicans, ethnocentrism was more strongly related to support for Trump than to support for the other GOP candidates. Republicans with the highest levels of ethnocentrism using this measure were about 15 points more favorable toward Trump, compared with those who had the lowest levels of ethnocentrism.


By contrast, support for Ted Cruz was not strongly related to ethnocentrism. And support for Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush was actually highest among those who exhibit less ethnocentrism. It is clear that Trump appeals to a distinctive base, compared with Rubio and especially Bush (who had not yet dropped out of the race when the survey was conducted).

This pattern in support for Trump confirms a wide variety of research showing that our political attitudes are often affected by our attitudes toward minority groups — before and especially after President Obama’s election in 2008.

Trump has only further activated ethnocentric sentiments. As the Super Tuesday primaries approach, it is this kind of generalized prejudice that helps to propel his candidacy and sets him apart from the other Republican candidates.

Kerem Ozan Kalkan is assistant professor in the government department at Eastern Kentucky University.