Like me, the Washington Post always looks for a little optimism to start its readers’ day. From this morning:
… Racial prejudice has not increased among white Americans since the explosive 2016 election, argues political scientist Daniel J. Hopkins. It has actually decreased by some measures, he found, possibly as a reaction to Trump’s unexpected ascension to the White House.
Hopkins told The Washington Post that the results initially surprised him. Upon reflection, however, “it’s quite conceivable that Trump has simultaneously galvanized a small number of highly prejudiced white Americans while also pushing millions more to affirm that they are not as prejudiced,” he argued.
In other words, Hopkins believes the study provides evidence that the racially incendiary rhetoric and policies issuing from Trump’s White House have pushed the majority of Americans in the opposite direction.
The specialist in race and political behavior acknowledged that his findings speak only to professed bias and not to concrete behavior, such as whether Americans are moving into heterogeneous neighborhoods.
The study, currently under review but posted on the Social Science Research Network on Thursday, starts from an unambiguous premise: “As a political leader, Donald Trump has used racist rhetoric to build political support.”
Hopkins and an undergraduate student, Samantha Washington, set out to determine what effect that rhetoric was having on white Americans, 57 percent of whom voted for Trump in 2016, according to exit polling. Among white men, that figure was 62 percent.
Most think the president is motivating his racist supporters to declare their bigoted views. A Quinnipiac University poll last summer found that 55 percent of voters believed that Trump was emboldening people who hold racist beliefs to state them outright.
There are two ways that effect might play out, the study observes. One is normalization, whereby members of the public would feel more comfortable expressing racist beliefs that they always harbored but once felt were outside the mainstream. The other is so-called opinion leadership, whereby the public would be moved to adopt racist positions advanced by political elites.
Instead, the authors found evidence of an altogether different effect — people actually moving away from the positions embraced by those in power…
Across the roughly 12-year period covered by the data, anti-black prejudice declined based on these metrics, with an especially marked drop between November 2016 and November 2018. The effect was only slightly more pronounced among Democrats than among Republicans. Education was not a decisive factor.
“The decline was apparently not driven by Trump’s candidacy — or by white Americans’ reactions to his campaign rhetoric in 2015 and 2016 — but instead by their reactions to his presidency itself,” the paper claims…
Whether the shift discovered by researchers has actually “shaped social behaviors” — rather than being empty value statements or even cover for discriminatory conduct — “is another critical question for future work,” the study suggests. But it casts into doubt whether hate crimes that rose 17 percent in 2017 reflect deepening hatred across the board.
Instead, the political scientist points to the increasing isolation of an extremist minority whose prejudices have intensified in the face of a broader shift away from the sort of opinions aired in Trump’s White House and on his Twitter feed…
More detail at the link. I’m not completely convinced, either — it’s a lot easier to lie to a pollster about the purity of one’s beliefs than to change hundreds of years of prejudice. But, on the other hand, there’s also the fact that acting out good values, however spurious one’s motives, does tend to gradually shift one’s core values towards those actions.
It also makes sense that the committed racists, seeing or sensing a shift among their neighbors, would respond with an extinction burst of exaggeratedly horrible, explicitly racist behavior. Donald Trump, rancid old sack of pasty overprivileged man-meat, is pretty much a bigot extinction burst made flesh.