According to a controversial new analysis by the Washington Post, Trump voters were motivated by “racism” more than a number of other factors in their presidential ballot choice last November.
The incendiary piece, titled “Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism” was written by Thomas Wood, an assistant professor of Political Science at Ohio State University, and proposes to examine the results of the latest American National Election Study (ANES) regarding voter attitudes.
Mr. Wood bases his skewed conclusions on a series of assumptions that reveal deep misunderstandings regarding the nature of racism, as well as Wood’s own profound racial biases.
To begin with, Wood only analyzed the opinions of white voters—his own racially biased choice. How black voters feel about whites, or what motivated many blacks to vote for Trump is disregarded as irrelevant to his study. Yet, in looking at racism, why would an objective examiner only look at the attitudes of whites?
Second, in the four questions looked at by Wood, racism is never actually addressed. Instead, Wood employs a “symbolic racism scale” that interprets people’s views on programs like Affirmative Action as concealing a hidden racism that is never overtly expressed. Wood said that these attitudes are “coded as more racially biased.”
If Wood were to employ serious academic standards regarding statistical analysis, he would start with a definition of racism—the key concept he is attempting to explore. If he had done this, however, it would have destroyed the entire thesis he is trying to advance.
According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, racism is “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”
The report that Wood proposes to interpret does not actually address racism at all, and to suggest that it does is academically dishonest. The four statements considered by Wood bear this out.
The first statement reads: “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”
To agree or disagree with this statement implies a judgment regarding how minorities have historically overcome prejudice in the United States as well as an opinion regarding how black Americans should overcome racial prejudice in their own case.
Many Americans, both black and white, believe that affirmative action programs imposing racial quotas are ultimately damaging to blacks and bring society farther away from Martin Luther King’s dream of a colorblind America. People’s opinions on racial favoritism—viewed by many as reverse discrimination—do not make them racists.
The second statement reads: “Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.”
This very poorly worded sentence may mean different things to different people. Many—both black and white—would take issue with a blanket concept of what blacks “deserve.” What, after all, do blacks or whites or Hispanics or Asians “deserve”? Was having the first black president of the United States a question of what blacks “deserve”? Do blacks and whites deserve different things?
No matter how one reads the intentionally ambiguous assertion, however, agreement or disagreement with it cannot be construed as “racism.” There is more implied racism in the question itself than in one’s agreement or disagreement with it.
The third statement reads: “It’s really a matter of people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”
While this blanket statement cannot possibly be completely true or completely false, it expresses an assessment of what it takes to get ahead in America. One’s basic belief or disbelief in the fundamental importance of hard work as being a key to economic success does not make a person a racist.
According to Merriam Webster’s definition, in fact, it is racist to believe that race is the “primary determinant” of people’s capacities. Therefore, making race more important than hard work for personal advancement would be an indicator of racism, and not the other way around.
If one thing was shown by last November’s election, in fact, it was that many Americans—both black and white—believe that despite their hard work, they cannot seem to get ahead.
The final statement reads: “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”
Agreeing or disagreeing with this assertion implies an evaluation of the socio-economic environment in the United States and how much of a role race plays in economic improvement. One could agree heartily with this statement and still be a racist; one could disagree with it and not be a racist. One’s opinion on the present state of affairs has nothing to do with racism and should not be equated with it.
It must finally be noted that nowhere in Mr. Wood’s purported “analysis” does the question of electoral motivation even come up. He unscientifically concludes that Trump voters are “motivated” by racism despite the fact that they were not even asked why they voted for Trump in the first place. As any serious academic knows, correlation does not imply causality.
So not only is “racism” nowhere implied by the survey, motivation to vote one way or the other is conspicuously absent as well.
This sloppy analysis is unworthy of an assistant professor at Ohio State University; worse still, it is ultimately destructive and inflammatory.
It is socially and morally irresponsible to stoke racial tensions with demagogic propaganda pieces posing as “analysis.” Real racism is too important a social evil to be demeaned in this way and treated with such superficiality and disrespect.
The Washington Post owes its readers an apology for publishing such a deeply insulting and discriminatory piece.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome