We have known for some time supporters of President Trump tend to have sharply different views of racial issues than do other groups. For example, a poll taken shortly before the 2016 election found those who planned to vote for Trump were more likely than not to say they were worried about “reverse racism” — that is, they worried whites would face racial discrimination. A poll from YouGov conducted in the same period found Trump voters identified white Americans as the group that faced the most discrimination in the country, at twice the rates black Americans face discrimination.
It should not be a surprise, then, that the new YouGov poll finds that people who voted for Trump in 2016 were about as likely to say racism is still a serious problem in the country as to say it is not. Trump voters were the only political group in which a majority did not say racism was still a serious problem except for those who identify as “very conservative,” for whom the numbers were similar.
About 1-in-5 Trump voters indicated they strongly disagree with the idea that racism is still a serious problem.
Unsurprisingly, then, those voters also overwhelmingly rejected the idea that racism had grown worse since the 2016 elections. Overall, about half of Americans said racism had increased, with large majorities of Democrats and people who supported Hillary Clinton saying it had.
Here we see some overlap with the Smollett incident. Smollett, you will recall, claimed to have been physically attacked by two men who also used racial and homophobic slurs against him and who reportedly invoked Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan. In recent days, serious questions have been raised about his account.
A number of prominent Democrats, including elected officials, were quick to express outrage at Smollett’s allegations, several of them linking the attack to what they described as a shift in political tone under Trump. Many Republicans and Trump supporters were more skeptical and raised questions about Smollett’s story.
It is the case that the number of reported hate crimes has increased over the past several years, in part because of increased awareness among law enforcement agencies. But it is clear both the acceptance and skepticism about Smollett’s assertion likely overlapped with how people viewed the Trump era: either as a time when racism was on the increase — or, perhaps, as a time when an alleged increase was used as a political hammer to criticize the president.
We have noted before that there’s an inherent overlap between race and partisan politics. The Republican Party is more heavily white now than the Democratic Party was two decades ago. About 4-in-10 Democrats are nonwhite; less than half as many Republicans are. The importance of racial issues in each party likely reflects those demographic numbers — and, perhaps, drives them.
There is another important reinforcement at play here. President Trump’s presidency has been focused on delivering policy outcomes for his base, those Trump voters identified above. If they do not see racism as a valid issue, why would Trump put an emphasis on racism even if he wanted to?