The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Laura Ingraham’s ‘demographic changes’ monologue is a rallying cry to Trump’s base

Fox News Channel host Laura Ingraham speaks Feb. 23, 2018, in National Harbor, Md. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There are multiple reasons that supporters of President Trump latched on to his campaign. But one of the more controversial ones was “cultural anxiety.”

A post-2016 election survey by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Atlantic found that beyond partisan affiliation, “cultural anxiety — feeling like a stranger in America, supporting the deportation of immigrants, and hesitating about educational investment” — was the best predictor for support for Trump.

Many Trump supporters have since rebuffed the suggestion that they were drawn to Trump because he called Mexicans “rapists” and criminals the day he announced his campaign and promised to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep immigrants from entering. But since then, other Trump supporters have been more willing to vocalize the “cultural anxiety” that the groups most willing to vote for Trump found themselves experiencing at the end of the Obama presidency. And the latest to do so was Fox News host Laura Ingraham.

While reacting to a podcast interview in which New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist, lamented how much the United States had changed for the middle and working classes, Ingraham spoke of the changes in the country that she and her viewers found disappointing.

She said:

In some parts of the country, it does seem like the America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore. Massive demographic changes have been foisted upon the American people. And they’re changes that none of us ever voted for and most of us don’t like. From Virginia to California, we see stark examples of how radically in some ways the country has changed. Now much of this is related to both illegal, and in some cases, legal immigration that, of course, progressives love.

Ingraham was speaking in general terms about what Americans believe and want, which is troublesome because most Americans do not feel the way she claims they do. Most Americans — three-quarters — say immigration is a good thing. But the “we” Ingraham was referring to was her viewers — who are more likely to be from groups that still give Trump high approval ratings: Republicans; whites; baby boomers; older, evangelical Christians; working-class and rural Americans.

And she’s right.

The Washington Post previously reported findings from a Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll:

In response to this poll question — “Which of these do you think is the bigger problem in this country: blacks and Hispanics losing out because of preferences for whites, or whites losing out because of preferences for blacks and Hispanics?” — rural whites are 14 points less likely than urban whites to say they are more concerned about blacks and Hispanics losing out.

And according to a 2017 Atlantic/PRRI survey:

  • Nearly two-thirds, or 65 percent, of white, working-class Americans believe U.S. culture and way of life has deteriorated since the 1950s.
  • Nearly half, 48 percent, of white, working-class Americans say that “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.” 
  • More than 6 in 10, or 62 percent, of white, working-class Americans believe the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens American culture, while 3 in 10, or 30 percent, say these newcomers strengthen society.

And a recent Pew Research Center survey revealed that no group supports the idea that the United States has a responsibility to accept refugees less than white evangelical Protestants. Only 25 percent of the reliably Republican group says that the United States has a responsibility to welcome those fleeing persecution in other countries.

As some analysts predict a “blue wave” in the upcoming midterm elections, Ingraham’s words can be interpreted as a rallying cry to Trump’s base. Americans looking to elect lawmakers who would advance Trump’s vision of the United States still retain significant influence, although their share of the national population has declined in the past few decades. And their likelihood to vote — especially in midterm elections — remains higher than that of the groups they fear are replacing them, making their worries unfounded to some.

So while Ingraham and her viewers may be anxious about how the nation’s demographics are changing, as long as they are more likely to show up to the polls than the groups they fear, the United States' move away from the period when most Trump supporters concluded the country was “great” is a quite a ways off.