NOTE: This issue was corrupted after it was sent on September 9, 2018. I’ve done my best to copy-paste the original newsletter below for archival purposes.
Is Trump a symptom of resentment, fear, and anger, or a cause of it?
You know how there are some weeks where just too much
happens to pick one big
thing as a takeaway? Last week was one of those weeks. We saw renewed Nike and NFL controversy
, an upset victory in MA-07
, and emphatic protest
at SCOTUS confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, just to name a few. Oh, and there was that NYT Op-ed written by
an anonymous member of Trump’s cabinet staff (yeah, that was just last week). But I want to put those aside and talk about Barack Obama’s big speech
Obama said something I think is worth an analysis driven by social science: that President Trump is “a symptom, not a cause,” of the current state of anger and resentment in America, especially among Republicans. I think Obama is wrong here; Trump is both a symptom and a cause of “a fear and anger that’s rooted in our past.”
It is true that the Republican Party underwent a transition from its 2004-era arguments for conservative governance to Donald Trump’s style of resentment-capitalizing power-seeking politics some time between the mid 2000s and now. This transition didn’t catalyze itself, though; it had outside input. Rick Wilson, a never-Trump Republican strategist and ad-maker who hails from the older more centrist GOP of the 1990s and 2000s, says in his new book “Everything Trump Touches Dies”
that it embraced Trumpist politics long before Trump. The changing GOP made dirty power grabs and began consolidating political gains made by the Fox news-viewing rural conservatives and suburban whites that helped deliver Trump a victory in 2016.
This embrace is easily measured in public opinion polls and survey data. Here are two common survey topics that suggest this theory is correct: Americans feelings toward Hispanics, and their feelings toward blacks. Studies have shown
an increasing divide between how Republicans and Democrats feel about nonwhites in US politics. Lee Drutman, a political scientist, finds that
Republicans have increasingly negative attitudes towards black and Hispanic Americans, a trend that began in 2004:
Michael Tesler, an associate professor of political science at University of California at Irvine, has also found a similar dynamic in US politics. Tesler took Republican presidential primary voting behavior and matched it with attitudes about immigration policy and black Americans. Summary findings: the more restrictions on immigration policy that a given Republican primary voter wanted, and the more anti-black attitudes they have, the more likely they were to support Trump. More importantly, these issues better predicted voting behavior in the 2016 GOP primary than in the 2012 or 2008 primaries. Thus, Trump is a special case. A special case of racial resentment and anti-immigrant appeals among Republicans, that is.
Thus, Trump as a “symptom.” But he’s also a cause! The transition from conservatism to Trumpism stop when he won the 2016 Republican primary. Rick Wilson writes “the blazing, white-hot embrace of actual, honest-to-God stupidity has been as contagious as smallpox and as fatal as Ebola.” I think Wilson is right (and I won’t attempt to out-do his colorful language. Rick is quite a creative dude!).
from Tufts University political science professor Brian Schaffner finds that Republicans have been more willing to express tolerance for sexism since Trump has been elected — especially when it comes from the horse’s mouth. He writes:
“I find that partisan motivated reasoning made Republicans more willing to express tolerance for sexist rhetoric when it came from Trump rather than from another source. Additionally, I show that Republicans became more willing to endorse sexist statements after the 2016 election, likely due to the fact that Trump’s victory changed their perceptions about the prevalence of sexist attitudes in American society. This increase in expressed sexism has persisted into 2018.”
In his paper “Follow the Racist? The Consequences of Trump’s Expressions of Prejudice for Mass Rhetoric” Schaffner finds that “exposure to Trump’s prejudiced statements made people more more likely to write offensive things, not only about the groups targeted by Trump, but sometimes about other identity groups as well.” Here’s the graphic I think displays this the best:
Thus, Trump is a reinforcing cause of anger and resentment in the public.
I’ll note that I’m not just splitting hairs with Obama on semantic grounds here: there would be very important differences in how we interpret the causes and effects of Trump’s presidency if he were a one-off product of a sexist, racist wing of the Republican party. In other words, the current state of the nativist, Trumpian GOP provides a much more impactful answer to the question of “Can it happen here…
again?” Yes, it can. It may even be easier next time.
Politics and Election Data
ANYONE wondering how long it takes Americans to digest the news that their president has been implicated in a conspiracy to commit federal campaign-finance violations now has an answer: about two weeks.
^This^ from me this week
WASHINGTON — In November, Americans could elect more than 100 women to the House for the first time in history — and put more new women in the House than in any prior election, a new race-by-race analysis shows.
Politics is polarizing enough, especially when it’s easier than ever to find a group of like-minded friends online. The antidote, then, seems obvious: pop the bubble. Step outside the echo chamber. Reach out for other points of view.
In a first, the Upshot and Siena College will publish polling results in real time. Over the next two months, The New York Times will talk to more voters than ever before.
In addition to the brand tracking data detailed above, Morning Consult ran a nationally-representative poll specifically about the campaign ad to gauge awareness of the campaign and how it is affecting the company’s brand.
Pressley’s surprise victory in MA-07 can be traced back to demographic factors — nonwhite areas voted more for her, whiter areas for incumbent Dem. Rep. Capuano.
Other Data and Cool Work
Significant shares of Facebook users have taken steps in the past year to reframe their relationship with the social media platform.
10:43 AM - 9 Sep 2018
Most elections in the United States are not close, which has raised concerns among social scientists and reform advocates about the vibrancy of American democracy.
Dwelling in a political echo chamber — where you only encounter people who agree with you — is hardly conducive to a healthy democracy. But it turns out that broadening your horizons by perusing opposing points of view on social media may just make the partisan divide worse.
“I argue that not all of the increased relationship between racial attitudes and vote choice in 2016 reflects racially biased voters gravitating to Trump. Some of this relationship stems from voters who shifted their survey responses on questions related to race and immigration to align with their support for Trump or Clinton.”
What I’m Reading and Working On
We will be rolling out changes to our House forecasting model at economist.com/midterms
and writing on voter turnout this week. Stay tuned.
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