It has long been understood that the MAGA movement is heavily dependent on White grievance and straight-up racism. (Hence Donald Trump’s refusal to disavow racist groups and his statement that there were “very fine people on both sides” in the violent clashes at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville.)
The connection between racism and the right-wing movement is apparent in a new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey asked respondents about 11 statements designed to probe views on racism. For example: “White Americans today are not responsible for discrimination against Black people in the past.” The pollsters then used their answers to quantify a “structural racism index,” which provides a general score from zero to 1 measuring a person’s attitudes on “white supremacy and racial inequality, the impact of discrimination on African American economic mobility, the treatment of African Americans in the criminal justice system, general perceptions of race, and whether racism is still significant problem today.” Higher scores indicate a more receptive attitude to racist beliefs.
The results shouldn’t surprise anyone paying attention to the MAGA crowd’s rhetoric and veneration of the Confederacy. “Among all Americans, the median value on the structural racism index is 0.45, near the center of the scale,” the poll found. “The median score on the structural racism index for Republicans is 0.67, compared with 0.45 for independents and 0.27 for Democrats.” Put differently, Republicans are much more likely to buy into the notion that Whites are victims.
The poll also found that the religious group that makes up the core of today’s GOP and MAGA movement has the highest structural racism measure among the demographics it surveyed: “White evangelical Protestants have the highest median score, at 0.64, while Latter-day Saints, white Catholics, and white mainline Protestants each have a median of 0.55. By contrast, religiously unaffiliated white Americans score 0.33.” This is true even though Whites report far less discrimination toward them than racial minorities do.
The survey also captured just how popular the “Lost Cause” to rewrite the history of the Civil War and downplay or ignore the evil of slavery is on the right: “Republicans overwhelmingly back efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy (85%), compared with less than half of independents (46%) and only one in four Democrats (26%). The contrast between white Republicans and white Democrats is stark. Nearly nine in 10 white Republicans (87%), compared with 23% of white Democrats, support efforts to preserve the legacy of the Confederacy.”
Americans who fully support reforming Confederate monuments have a much lower structural racism index score, while those who oppose it have a much higher score. The same is true when it comes to renaming schools honoring individuals who supported slavery and racial discrimination or changing racist mascots.
Those who want to keep Confederate monuments and offensive mascots in place might deny that their views have anything to do with bigotry, but then again, they often deny the legacy of racism and paint Whites as victims, too. In general, MAGA forces have one goal when they amplify “replacement theory” or fuss over corporations promoting inclusivity: to maximize White anger and resentment.
Robert P. Jones, who leads PRRI, tells me, “While this result may seem surprising or even shocking to many White Christians, it is because we do not know our own history. If we take a clear-eyed look at our history, we see a widespread, centuries-long Christian defense of white supremacy.” He adds, “For example, every major Protestant Christian denomination split over the issue of slavery in the Civil War, with Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Baptists in the South all breaking fellowship with their Northern brethren.” Given that history, Jones says, “it’s hardly a surprise that a denial of systemic racism is a defining feature of White evangelicalism today.”
The PRRI poll shows the MAGA movement has done a solid job convincing the core of the GOP base that they are victims. And let’s be clear: An aggrieved electoral minority that believes it has been victimized and is ready to deploy violence is a serious threat to an inclusive democracy.