The rabid supporters of the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, are demographically distinguished by several clear variables: overwhelmingly white, working-class Christian males without a college education. We now have sufficient statistical evidence to add ethnocentricism – the personal importance of their “American” (read: white) identity – to the list.
A new study by the Western Political Science Association has found that Trump supporters hold a strong sense of white racial identity, with a corresponding inclination to dislike or feel threatened by members of other racial demographics – one drastically more pronounced than the supporters of other Republican candidates.
By asking poll respondents to place different groups and figures on a scale of 100 (very “warm” or favorable) to 0 (“cold” or unfavorable), the WPSA discovered that “61 percent of Trump supporters say that being an American is “extremely” important to their identity, compared to 37% of non-Trump supporters. Among Republicans who don’t support Trump, only half say being American is “extremely” important to their identity.”
Trump supporters are very much more likely to harbor negative feelings towards almost all other groups – feminists, Muslims, Latinos, LGBT Americans, and supporters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Which isn’t surprising at this point in this bizarre election cycle, which has seen white supremacy hate groups come out of the woodwork in response to Trump’s primitive ethnonationalist scapegoating and fearmongering.
The question we must now ask ourselves is how to interpret this information. A first instinct is to dismiss them all as vicious racists, indoctrinated and incurable – but there’s more to it than that. An analysis by the Atlantic found that “the single best predictor of Trump support in the GOP primary is the absence of a college degree.” Not only are those without college degrees less well equipped to understand the superficiality of human division, but are also much less likely to be able to achieve economic stability or success. Wages across the nation have been stagnant for decades – but for those without a bachelor’s degree, wages have been dropping substantially.
The colossal economic income inequality and the strangulation of the American middle class that two decades of neoliberal economic policies has created presents us with this situation. The American white, working class voter feels threatened by forces they cannot understand, and are highly emotionally volatile at this point in time, making them eager recipients for a reassuring message like “Make America Great Again.” So it’s important to understand why they feel this way and as liberals, we shouldn’t give in to our instinct to dismiss the concerns of the right-wing with condescension. The overwhelming dominance of megawealthy oligarchs on our political system is creating massive amounts of anger and frustration on both sides of the aisle, and while Trump supporters choose poor ways to express it, it doesn’t make their anger any less legitimate.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.