Here's the scary reality behind the University of Virginia's claim that 11 million Americans agree with the alt-right
A group of neo-Nazis during 'Unite the Right' rally in Charlottesville (Rodney Dunning/Flickr)

On Friday, Vox published a review of an explosive new study released by the University of Virginia's Institute for Family Studies claiming that a projected 11 million Americans agree with the alt-right and its "white identity politics." But as New York Magazine's Ed Kilgore wrote, there's more to those numbers than meets the eye.

Using data from the 2016 American National Election Survey, the University of Alabama’s George Hawley asserted in the UVA-published study that if respondents answered three questions positively, they were likely to agree with the politics of the alt-right.

Hawley's methodology was as follows:

Respondents were asked how important their race was to their identity on a five-point scale ranging from “not at all important” to “extremely important.” They were also asked a question measuring their feelings of white solidarity: “How important is it that whites work together to change laws that are unfair to whites?” This followed the same five-point scale. Finally, we can assess survey respondents’ feelings of white victimization from their answers to the question of how much discrimination whites face in the U.S., also on a five-point scale, ranging from “none at all” to a “great deal.”

Kilgore — a self-described white Southerner who was raised in the Jim Crow-era South — noted that in the study, those who had higher scores on the questions are "likely to find such movements [i.e., the alt-right] appealing."

"That seems plausible," he wrote. "Maybe a relatively large number of white people think they are being picked on or discriminated against for their honkitude."

Things "get more subjective" when the study concluded that about 5.64 percent of Americans "fit the proto-alt-right profile" Hawley described. With a total non-Hispanic white population of 198 million, the study's logic followed, roughly 11 million Americans would be open to the "white identity politics" espoused by the alt-right.

That number, Kilgore noted, "includes a lot of small children who probably haven’t formed strong impressions on racial issues, and might transcend their elders’ racism in any event."

"The idea that tens of millions of Americans are willing to confide racist attitudes to a surveyor is a bit alarming," the columnist wrote. "But still, from my experience as a white southerner I’d say the ratio of covert to open racists remains pretty high."

It "does sort of matter" that there remains a division between the out-and-proud extremists that shouted "Jews will not replace us" while toting tiki torches in Charlottesville last year and the average American racist, Kilgore noted.

"One of the alt-right’s gray eminences, David Duke, nearly got himself elected governor of Louisiana despite his unapologetic background as a Ku Klux Klan leader —until a photo of him wearing a swastika and giving the Nazi salute got around," he wrote. "Garden-variety white racists are unlikely to find much in common with the Richard Spencers of the world."

While the numbers touted by the Hawley's study are daunting, the findings are not without merit, the NY Mag columnist concluded, because they offer "more direct evidence of bad racial attitudes."

"Perhaps people are rightly angry when liberals call them 'racist' for being a Trump supporter or an opponent of voting rights or a lock-’em-up-and-throw-away-the-key fan of mass incarceration," Kilgore noted. "But when you are expressing solidarity with people of your dominant race for the terrible indignities being placed upon them by the dispossessed of the world, it’s harder to claim your motives are pure as snow."