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Racial Polarization and American Politics


Perry Bacon Jr. has a very good article about what the 2020 tells us about the nature of the two major party coalitions. The tl; dr is that the parties have become a little less polarized around racial lines — as Republicans gained among voters of color, and Democrats gained among whites with advanced educations — but are as polarized as ever around attitudes toward questions of race and politics:

There’s been a recent flurry of studies and analyses that take a deeper look at the results of the 2020 election. These examinations don’t contradict our early interpretation of the results from the days and weeks immediately following Election Day: The overwhelming majority of voters backed the candidate from the party that they normally lean toward, though then-President Trump did slightly better with voters of color and slightly worse with white voters than he did in 2016. But the new examinations and other data tell a nuanced story about the role of race in the 2020 contestAmerican voters …  

1.Remain deeply polarized based on ethnicity and racial identity; 

2.Were less polarized by racial identity in 2020 compared to 2016; and 

3.Are very polarized by attitudes about racial and cultural issues. 

At first glance, it might seem surprising that Trump gained among voters of color, since he often demonized Asian AmericansBlack Americans and Latinos and invoked racist tropes. I will admit that I did not expect Trump to make those gains before polls started showing them in the run-up to the election.

But the data and research in the wake of the 2020 election suggests that many voters of color who backed Trump either already held GOP views on some racial issues or adopted those views to align with their decision to back Trump. So their views on racial issues are often closer to those of white Republicans than people of color who are Democrats. Meanwhile, white Democrats tend to have racial views much closer to people of color who are Democrats than white Republicans. When you put those two things together (white Democrats getting more racially liberal and many people of color who are Republicans not being liberal on racial issues), the results are that Republicans and Democrats are very divided about views on racial issues, even as they are becoming less divided in terms of racial identity (more white people are Democrats, more people of color are Republicans).

For example, around 15 percent of Black adults and 38 percent of Latino adults either said they opposed the Black Lives Matter movement or were non-committal about it (they didn’t support or oppose it), according to polling conducted by Civiqs around last November’s election. That’s fairly similar to the percentage of those groups that voted for Trump in 2020.  Furthermore, about half of Black adults who said they opposed Black Lives Matters’s goals backed Trump in 2020, while only 7 percent of Black adults who agreed with the goals of Black Lives Matters backed Trump, according to polling from PRRI. Seventy-three percent of Latino voters who opposed Black Lives Matters’s goals backed Trump, similar to the 83 percent of white voters who opposed Black Lives Matters’s goals. 

Definitely worth reading the whole thing.

This could play out a lot of different ways. One crucial question for the short term is whether Republican gains among Hispanic voters in regions like South Florida and the Rio Grande Valley will stick or prove to be a Trump-related one-off, and whether the new Republican voters will turn out in midterm elections in states that are deliberately making it harder to vote.

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