Writing for The New York Times on Wednesday, columnist Thomas Edsall broke down how President Donald Trump's racist rhetoric galvanizes conservative white voters — and what evidence shows is the best way Democrats can neuter it.
"A forthcoming paper by Desmond King and Rogers M. Smith, political scientists at Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania, 'White Protectionism in America,' makes a strong case that Trump, unlike his Republican predecessors in the White House, has gone far beyond rhetoric and token gestures to substantively address the concerns of his anti-immigrant and socially conservative supporters," wrote Edsall.
Specifically, he wrote: "King and Smith catalog in great detail Trump’s success putting in place policies favored by racially conservative Americans but with a new focus on active white protection, rather than simply colorblind efforts to constrain positive governmental actions. Trump has fanned the anger of many white supporters convinced that post-1970 federal policies have unjustly favored people of color."
As Edsall noted, there are two main ways Democrats can counteract this, according to research, from both the moderate and progressive schools of the Democratic Party.
The first, as noted by Stanford sociologists Jan G. Voelkel and Robb Willer, is that Democrats should stop ceding traditional values like patriotism and family to be used only in GOP rhetoric. Specifically, "a presidential candidate who framed his progressive economic platform to be consistent with more conservative value concerns like patriotism, family, and respect for tradition — as opposed to more liberal value concerns like equality and social justice — was supported significantly more by conservatives and, unexpectedly, by moderates as well."
The second, proposed by a venture of the progressive think tank Demos called the Race-Class Project, is that Democrats should frame racism as not only something bad in its own right, but as something that is ultimately harmful to the economic prospects of lower-income white voters. "Politicians, according the report, should say 'our opponents point the finger for our hard times at blacks, new immigrants and Muslims' instead of saying 'our opponents are racist against blacks, new immigrants and Muslims.' Why? 'Framing scapegoating as tied to economic concerns allows audiences, including whites, to see that their well-being is tied to rejecting racial resentment.'"
One interesting exercise done by the Race-Class project was to poll-test multiple Democratic messages against a Republican opposition message. The Democratic message that was the strongest was:
"America’s strength comes from our ability to work together — to knit together a landscape of people from different places and of different races into one nation. For this to be a place of freedom for all, we cannot let the greedy few and the politicians they pay for turn what you look like, where you come from or how much money you have into reasons some of us matter and others don’t. It’s time to stand up for each other and come together. It is time for us to pick leaders who reflect the very best of every kind of American. Together, we can make this a place where freedom is for everyone, no exceptions."
And the Republican message was:
"Our leaders must prioritize keeping us safe and ensuring that hard working Americans have the freedom to prosper. Taking a second look at people coming from terrorist countries who wish us harm or at people from places overrun with drugs and criminal gangs is just common sense. And so is curbing illegal immigration, so our communities are no longer flooded with people who refuse to follow our laws. We need to make sure we take care of our own people first, especially the people who politicians have cast aside for too long to cater to whatever special interest groups line their pockets, yell the loudest, or riot in the street."
"In the polling done for the Race Class report, all the Democratic messages received higher ratings than the opposition message, but there was a clear warning signal," wrote Edsall. "The Demos report found that the opposition message is very strong with persuadables. Among persuadables the opposition message has the lowest convincing rating, but the average dial rating is higher than several of our messages. Several themes of the opposition message resonate with persuadables including 'keeping us safe' and 'we need to make sure we take care of our own people first.'"
"For the Democratic Party, race and immigration remain crucially important in terms of both values and policy," concluded Edsall. "The key question is whether the party is structurally capable — under an extraordinary barrage of hostility directed by Republicans at African-Americans and immigrants — of finding politically effective ways of addressing race and immigration. Has the left wing of the party become so discouraged, so defensive — and so embattled — that it now perceives a critical mass of whites as intractably hardened and unswervingly opposed to minority interests? If moderates and progressives are locked in on either side of such a chasm, what will it take to make peace?"
You can read more here.