Ferenstein: My Search for Data on Trump Supporters and Racism

Supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump cheer during election night at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on November 9, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Ahoy there, Breitbart nation.

I’ve been watching as my coastal colleagues hurl allegations of racism at Trump supporters and I’m here to show you preliminary evidence that most Trump supporters are not bigots.

For the first 18 years of my life, I grew up in the Midwest–deep Trump county. While I certainly had my brushes with outright anti-Semitism, most of my friends out there, some of whom voted for Trump, don’t believe that whites are superior to other ethnicities or cultures. My experience informs an ongoing research on the political psychology of Trump supporters.

The basic finding is this: Trump supporters seem to believe that globalization threatens cultures around the world–not just Americans. This belief often gets mistaken as “racism.”

(It’s important to note that these findings are very preliminary and based on a few surveys with sample sizes of less than 30 respondents. However, the magnitude of the results is compelling. The long-term project will be much larger, but I wanted to get these ideas out while the accusations are being made).

In a survey, I asked both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump supporters a few questions.

The first question was about whether they believe Mexican immigrants threaten American values. As expected, a greater number of Trump supporters thought that Mexicans are a threat ( ~71% vs. 41% of Clinton supporters).

But, then I asked if respondents believe that Americans who immigrate to Mexico threaten Mexican values. That is, if Trump supporters are “racist,” a similar percent should believe that Americans enhance Mexico as believe Mexicans threaten American values, since racism presumes that some cultures are better than others.

Yet, 85% of our small sample of Trump supporters said that Americans threaten Mexican values (compared to 58% of Clinton supporters). “The American immigrants would want Mexico to be like America,” wrote one respondent.

These findings are also consistent with that fact that many Trump voters also support Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (“Brexit”). It all seems based on a political philosophy that is not terribly optimistic about the long-term outcome of globalization and seeks to protect cultures from erosion. That doesn’t seem like racism to me (though many liberals certainly won’t like the philosophy).

Now, to be sure, there are those who conform to what we traditionally understand as racism. In a Reuters poll, slightly more Trump supporters seem to believe that whites are more intelligent than blacks. But, the difference is not that large: there’s roughly a 10% difference (~20% vs. 30%) between Clinton and Trump supporters. Racism comprises a minority of supporters in both camps.

So, was Trump’s movement “racist”? The evidence seems to suggest not, but there’s a lot more work to be done on what exactly this emerging political ideology is.

I want to be upfront with the Breitbart nation. I’m personally pretty bullish on globalization. I think there are all sorts of economic and cultural benefits from mobility, diversity, and inclusion. But, it’s clear that there needs to be a national conversation about globalization and immigration that includes Breitbart readers and Middle America. For too long, my coastal colleagues have excluded you.

I’m hoping this research (and this post) opens up a thoughtful dialogue. I know you all will be active in the comment section and look forward to hearing your thoughts.


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