It’s often observed that President Trump’s racism, bigotry and cruelty toward migrants are making Americans more accepting of immigration. What’s noted less often is that white Americans are also responding this way.
But a new Reuters study captures this dynamic in an interesting way. And hopefully, if any Democrats are still inclined to ascribe to Trump magical political powers on this issue, they’ll rethink matters.
The Reuters study is based on new online polling of nearly 4,500 Americans that is compared with previous polling. Among the topline findings:
While a plurality of Americans do favor increasing deportations of undocumented immigrants, 61 percent favor a path to citizenship for them. That’s not difficult to square: Large majorities want to create a legal pathway for undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, but a plurality want deportations if such a pathway is not put in place, which (again) large majorities do want to see happen.
But among whites in particular, the findings are even more interesting: White Americans are now 19 percentage points more supportive of a path to citizenship than they were in January 2015.
The poll also found that only 29 percent of whites now think that “America must protect and preserve its white European heritage." That’s down seven percentage points from August 2017 and down nine percentage points from August 2018.
And the poll found that only 17 percent of whites strongly agree that “white people are currently under attack in this country,” a drop of about six percentage points since 2017. All this leads Reuters to conclude that compared to 2016, “Trump’s brand of white identity politics may be less effective in the 2020 election campaign.”
Similarly, a recent Quinnipiac survey found that only a minority of whites favor reduced immigration levels, and that even smaller minorities of whites favor Trump’s wall or oppose citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
The larger context here: Americans are becoming more accepting of immigration in general. A 2018 Gallup poll found that a record-high 75 percent of Americans say immigration is good for the United States. The Pew Research Center has found that that the percentage of people that wants to see a decrease in legal immigration has steadily dropped and, as of June 2018, it was supported by fewer than 1 in 4 Americans.
Similarly, it seems clear that voters are recoiling at Trump’s public displays of racism. A recent CBS poll found that majorities of Americans disagree with Trump’s attacks against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and three other nonwhite congresswomen. More important, 52 percent of white voters disagreed with the attacks, and only 22 percent said the statements were presidential.
More broadly still, amid Trump’s trade wars, there’s been a turn against him on that issue, too. A new NBC poll finds that 64 percent of Americans now support free trade with foreign countries. As David A. Graham comments for the Atlantic:
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.
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.
As Graham concludes:
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.
This is right, but I think this can be refined further. It is Trump’s brand of conservative populist xenophobia and ethnonationalism in particular that voters are turning against.
The standard response to this is usually something like: Well, Trump won on these issues in 2016, didn’t he? But what’s different now is that voters have seen President Trump’s agenda put into concrete policy.
The spiritually sickening imagery of cruelty toward migrant children; the ugly sight of Trump visibly relishing his threat of mass arrests of migrant families; the news reports of terror spreading among immigrant communities; the Trump rally crowd chanting “send her back” about a member of Congress who is a former refugee, echoing Trump’s own disgusting command that the nonwhite lawmakers leave the country; the TV news segments of farmers lamenting that the president’s trade wars are killing them; the folly and destructiveness of Trump’s tariffs and his attacks on our trading allies — all of this is vividly dramatizing the violent collision of Trump’s blustery campaign proposals with the increasing complexities of international diplomacy, the global economy, as well as human migration and its myriad causes. And Americans are recoiling at the results.