June 27, 2019


What Really Happened in the Last Presidential Race (GEORGE HAWLEY, 6/27/19, Law & Liberty)

With Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America, political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck provide welcome insights into these subjects. They carefully examined multiple sources of data, considering the plausibility of various explanations for the election's results. If they have a thumb on the scale, promoting an ideological agenda, I haven't discerned it. This is the best, most dispassionate analysis of 2016 that I have seen. [...]

After demonstrating why other factors had, at most, a modest influence on the election result, Sides, Tesler, and Vavreck conclude that racial attitudes were a key predictor of vote choice. I hasten to add, they carefully note that the relationship of such attitudes to electoral behavior was complicated--the election was not merely a story of white racial animus, or Trump normalizing racist and nativist language.

They also note that, contrary to conventional wisdom among liberal commentators, there is little evidence that Trump increased racism in the electorate. In fact, polling shows that feelings of prejudice among whites have decreased since 2016. This change has only occurred among white Democrats, however--white Republican attitudes have not changed very much in either direction.

Although Trump's rhetoric did not stir up white anxiety or feelings of racial identity and resentment, he did make these politically salient. That is, there was a weaker correlation between racial attitudes and vote choice in previous elections, including 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was the Democratic nominee. Because race was a central element of Election 2016, apparently, racial attitudes were a more important predictor of vote choice in both the GOP primary and in the general election.

The chapter on the Republican primaries emphasized the unusual nature of Trump's campaign talking points, and how they served to activate feelings of white identity and anxiety. In recent presidential election years, the leading Republican candidates vying for their party's nomination were mostly indistinguishable on questions related to race; all promoted a formally color-blind conservatism. As the authors note, 2016 was different: "Few Republican candidates for president have attempted to distinguish themselves from their Republican rivals on issues connected to race and ethnicity--until Trump did exactly that." The authors' use of longitudinal survey data was helpful, as they were able to examine responses from subjects surveyed in both 2011 through 2012 and 2016. These data were particularly useful for understanding those voters who voted for Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016.

Posted by at June 27, 2019 7:21 PM