It is a consistent feature of President Trump’s time in office that more Americans tell pollsters that they think he is racist than that they don’t. We’ve seen this repeatedly, including in a poll released on Monday by HuffPost.
That poll, conducted by YouGov, found that 47 percent of Americans believe Trump is racist, compared to 38 percent who don’t. There are by-now expected gaps in the responses to that question: Black and Hispanic respondents are more likely to view Trump as racist, as are Democrats.
Given the mass shooting in El Paso earlier this month, which was reportedly spurred by the alleged shooter’s hatred for Hispanic immigrants, the HuffPost poll explored how Americans felt about Trump’s broader relationship with racial issues.
Most Americans, for example, think that Trump has inflamed racial divisions as president.
Fewer felt that he actively encouraged his supporters to commit acts of violence, but 63 percent of respondents overall said they believed he either explicitly encouraged violence or didn’t discourage it.
The attack in El Paso was one of several recently that have been linked to white nationalist or racist ideologies. An attempted mass shooting in Gilroy, Calif., reportedly had a similar motive; a man arrested in Florida after threatening to attack a Walmart posted white nationalist comments on Facebook.
Most Americans say that white nationalism is a somewhat or very serious threat. (More than a third say it is very serious.)
Respondents were asked if Trump himself supported the idea of white nationalism, something that he’s been accused of both implicitly and explicitly by some of the Democrats seeking their party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Three-quarters of respondents said either that he supports white nationalism or doesn’t have a strong opinion on it — itself an unusual position for an American president to hold.
None of this is terribly surprising, really, particularly when considering the partisan and racial splits on each question. As noted above, we’ve seen similar poll results in the past and similar divides by race and party.
But consider this aspect of the poll’s findings: There’s a bigger gulf by party on each of these questions than by race. In fact, the widest gaps are often between white Democrats and white Republicans.
Much of this, of course, is a function of partisan homogeneity among racial groups. Black Americans overwhelmingly identify as Democrats, for example, while white Americans are more split by party.
In 2017, Pew Research Center released data demonstrating wider gaps between members of the two parties on political values than any other divide they tracked. What’s more, that gap has widened significantly in the last two decades.
This isn’t just things like abortion or immigration. It was a broad range of issues, covering foreign policy, religion, corporate profits — even the type of neighborhoods people wanted to live in. The big gaps in opinions were between members of opposing parties.
Out of curiosity, we asked Pew what that gap between the parties only among white respondents looked like. As in the HuffPost polling, that was the widest difference.
There are myriad reasons that this divide has grown, reasons that are the subjects of numerous articles about people’s social circles and how they’ve moved around the country.
The effect, though, is that significant differences of opinion on important issues can often be written off as partisan politics. Trump’s approach to issues of race is unquestionably different than his predecessors’, but even incidents like his tweeting racist attacks on a group of Democratic members of Congress falls into the space of Democrats-think-one-thing-and-Republicans-think-something-else. There’s no objective view in that framework, just two partisan views grappling against one another.
That has played to Trump’s advantage. He’s elevated Democratic concerns about his views on race to the level of an unfair partisan attack that then inspires Republicans to defend him and, to varying extents, his actions.
How the gap between the parties might be narrowed isn’t clear. It is clear that Trump may not be the best president to tackle the job.