According to recent polls, the image of Donald Trump as a bigot has begun to crystallize, and for good reason: Because it’s true!
A Quinnipiac poll released last week found that 59 percent of likely voters, and 29 percent of likely Republican voters in particular, think that the way Trump talks appeals to bigotry. Republicans were the only anomaly. A majority or plurality of every other demographic measured – Democrats, independents, men, women, white people with and without college degrees, every age group, whites and nonwhites alike – agreed that Trump’s words appeal to bigotry.
But there is one demographic that must be particularly concerning to Trump: college-educated whites.
I know that Trump has boasted that he loves the poorly educated, but there appears to be little love lost between him and those white people with degrees. In fact, as the blog FiveThirtyEight predicted in July, “Trump may become the first Republican in 60 years to lose white college graduates.”
This may in part be due to his particularly abysmal performance among college-educated white women.
An ABC News/Washington Post poll this month found: “Trump enjoys a roughly 40-point lead among white men without college degrees but only a high single-digit lead among college-educated white men. Among white women without college degrees, he leads by low double-digits but trails by nearly 20 points among college-educated white women.”
Not only are these college-educated white women likely to recoil from a man they view as biased toward others, they also probably realize their own place as a historically disadvantaged group and know how very harmful bias can be.
This is surely earth-shattering news for a struggling campaign, so Trump, in a fit of desperation, is throwing anything and everything against the wall to see if it sticks, to shake the bigotry label off him and make it stick to Hillary Clinton.
He has engaged in fake outreach to African-American voters, feeding his nearly all-white crowds a healthy diet of the most pernicious stereotypes about the horror and unremitting bleakness of black life. He has waffled and grown more ambiguous on his hard line concerning immigrants who are in the country illegally.
His repeated refrain, supposedly to the black and Hispanic voters, is: “What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance.” But in fact, he’s talking past blacks and Hispanics, two groups he has previously shown little interest in. He is instead speaking directly to the educated white voters who recoil at the thought of supporting a bigot. Blacks and Hispanics are mere pawns in this appeal.
Furthermore, he wants to move the withering light of examination away from himself, his history, his disturbing coziness with white nationalists, and focus that light on the history of racial and ethnic alliances in the opposite political party.
This is all a rather clever distraction, but it is a distraction nonetheless.
The fact remains that there is a disturbing racial undertone to the Trump campaign that goes far beyond the tired narrative of economic anxiety and distress among white people in the flyover states who feel ignored by conventional politicians.
That may be one component, but so is this: One of the most effective narratives of Trump’s campaign has been driven by racial isolationism, and racial isolationists appear to be the very ones drawn to that message. This is not partisan theory, but empirical fact.
The draft of a major working paper published this month by the Gallup senior economist Jonathan Rothwell found: “His supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue-collar occupations, but they earn relative high household incomes, and living in areas more exposed to trade or immigration does not increase Trump support. There is stronger evidence that racial isolation and less strictly economic measures of social status, namely health and intergenerational mobility, are robustly predictive of more favorable views toward Trump, and these factors predict support for him but not other Republican presidential candidates.”
Specifically on this racial isolation point, Rothwell put it this way: “This analysis provides clear evidence that those who view Trump favorably are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated ZIP codes and commuting zones. Excluding other factors, constant support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.”
He continued: “This is consistent with contact theory, which has already received considerable empirical support in the literature in a variety of analogous contexts. Limited interactions with racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and college graduates may contribute to prejudicial stereotypes, political and cultural misunderstandings, and a general fear of rejection and not-belonging.”
Racial isolation is the common thread here. It is what would allow his supporters to so uncritically accept the corrosive mythologies he creates about minorities. But it is this same racial isolation that will make minorities and college-educated white voters avoid Trump like the plague.
The New York Times