Posted on September 28, 2018

Race is the Main Political Divide

Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, September 28, 2018

Political commentators are noticing that the two major American political parties are diverging and becoming more hostile to each other. Why?

According to an award-winning paper from political scientists Nicholas Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov, race is more important than ideology in determining party affiliation. They argue that race and partisan identification are linked in the minds of Americans, with “Republican” and “Democrat” beginning to stand for “white” and “non-white.” Even as many Republicans claim to oppose it, future politics will be identity politics.

The dry academic prose of this report belies its explosive conclusions. The authors argue (full paper here) that “racial and partisan schemas” increasingly overlap and drive increasing polarization — and they do so more than other group identities such as class, religion, or ideology.

The current leading explanation for polarization, advanced by scholars such as Professor Lilliana Mason in Uncivil Agreement, is that internal disagreements within the parties are disappearing, resulting in Republicans and Democrats disagreeing with each other on more issues. In other words, there are fewer pro-lifers, gun-owning Democrats, and fewer big government, welfare supporting Republicans. The authors of this new paper find a more fundamental reason for the political divide. Prof. Valentino and Mr. Zhirkov argue that racial differences between the parties or, more specifically, the “racial images that we have in our head” drive polarization.

“We demonstrate that the two parties have diverged dramatically in terms of their racial composition and, most importantly, due to the rapid decline in the numbers of whites in the Democratic Party,” said Mr. Zhirkov in a recently posted video. “Over time, this gap in racial composition makes the best predictor of the affective distance between Democrats and Republicans. It works even better than ideological sorting, for instance.”

The authors argue that increasing polarization and the negative opinion Republicans and Democrats hold of each other “springs from a mental image of the opposition that is composed of disliked social groups,” including different races. As both parties become more racially homogeneous, fewer American voters ever hear a dissenting opinion from within their party, and therefore develop more extreme in-group and out-group attitudes.

The authors argue that partisan identity can develop independently from social group identity but only among a narrow group of “well-informed, highly interested voters.” The rest “derive their partisan attachments from their social group membership.” In other words, there are a few, very politically involved people whose politics reflect ideas; for the rest, politics reflect their social group, the most salient of which is race.

The authors don’t say so, but, the “well-informed, highly interested voters” with partisan identities separate from social group probably include many of the professional “conservative movement” activists who have labored so hard to keep white identity politics verboten within the GOP — as well as the dwindling number of white men who are still Democrats despite the party’s sharp tilt against them.

Unfortunately for conservatives like these who thought Barack Obama’s election would remove the “race card” from the Left’s arsenal, the authors cite significant evidence that “the country’s first African-American president polarized the electorate and increased opposition to left-wing policies among racially conservative whites (Tesler 2016), may have increased racial resentment (Valentino and Brader 2011), and even boosted the acceptability of explicitly hostile racial rhetoric in the most recent campaigns (Valentino, Neuner, and Vandenbroek 2016).” Thus, the authors believe recent history has changed the most common view of both parties “such that Democrats are not simply viewed as liberal but are quite automatically viewed as non-white” while “Republicans, on the other hand, are viewed primarily as a party of whites.”

The authors conducted three studies that support their claims. The first study found attitudes about race are increasingly the best predictor of how close someone feels to the Democrat Party. Scores on what is called the “racial resentment index” were better indicators of this than either values (pro-life versus pro-choice) or policy (support or oppose increased defense spending): “[R]ace and racial attitudes were strongly and increasingly associated with the growing affective polarization identified by others.” The authors also found that racial attitudes were more important than “social identities based on religion or class.”

Needless to say, there are problems with the “racial resentment index,” which is calculated from the answers to four questions:

  • “Irish, Italians, Jews, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”
  • “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”
  • “Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.”
  • “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”

Obviously, what is being measured is the level of sympathy for blacks, not “resentment,” and the fourth question is actually two different questions that some people cannot answer with a single “yes” or “no.” Race realists may think that blacks do not try hard enough and therefore answer “yes” to the first part of the fourth question (and therefore would be considered unsympathetic to blacks), but they also know that because of race differences blacks as a group can’t be “just as well off as whites” and therefore answer “no.” A “no” answer would be scored as “sympathetic” because the implication is that blacks are held back by society, not their own limitations. There are other problems with the index that go far beyond this paper, but it is still significant that answers to these four questions are an increasingly good indicator of how strongly someone identifies as a Democrat or Republican.

The authors’ second study used a test designed to measure implicit racial bias to see how strongly someone associates Republicans and Democrats with blacks or whites. Conclusion: “A substantial proportion of Republicans very strongly associated the Republican Party with whites and the Democratic Party with blacks, while very few Democrats strongly associated the Republican Party with blacks.” Scores on the “racial resentment index” were also good indicators of how Democrats and Republicans viewed the other party.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis introduces Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at an ”African Americans for Hillary” grassroots event. (Credit Image: © Branden Camp/ZUMA Wire)

One could dispute this finding because it uses the implicit association test (IAT) developed by Project Implicit. This test and others like it have been used to claim that whites hold strong “implicit biases,” and to justify the expensive “training” required to cure it. Yet even the creators of this test have admitted it does not predict biased behavior in the lab, let alone in the real world. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Personality of Social Psychology found the IAT does predict behavior and is more accurate than self-reporting, but a 2016 study found only a weak correlation between “implicit bias” and discriminatory behavior, and little evidence that changes in implicit bias change a person’s behavior.

The authors’ third study is the most interesting. After answering questions about their own background, respondents were asked to identify “the typical supporter” of both the Democrat and the Republican Party on the same identity dimensions they used to describe themselves. The subjects thought of Democrats as more racially diverse and slightly more working class, and Republicans as white, evangelical, and middle class or wealthy. However, the authors write that “only a racial match had an impact on partisan affective polarization [emotional attachment or hostility], whereas matching with a party in terms of religion and social class did not. . . .” In other words, being of the same race as the typical party member was more likely than similar religion or social class to predict emotional attachment to or hostility towards a party. Even after the authors controlled for respondents’ positions on partisan issues, race was the best predictor of attachment or hostility. In summary: “Individuals do think of the two major U.S. parties in racial terms and those beliefs impact their feelings about partisans on either side of aisle. Explicit racial schemas also appear to be more powerful predictors of affective polarization than ones based on religion or class.”

The authors conclude that over the entire course of American history, it has been race — not class, religion, or ideology — that “imbue[s] partisan disagreement with the kind of antipathy we are now witnessing.” Echoing race realists, the authors say, “Racial animosity, perhaps more than any other identity cleavage, has defined and structured American politics.” Peter Brimelow recently argued that the defeat of white Democrats in recent primaries shows the party has “tipped” towards non-whites, and Steve Sailer says the Democrats are in danger of being viewed as “the black party.”

Race intensifies political polarization but does not determine it. White Democrats do not identify with white Republicans. As the authors note, some research suggests parents are more likely to be upset by a child marrying outside their political party than outside their race. Also, whites are still a plurality of Democratic voters. However, the two parties’ views of racial issues and the racialized images partisans have of their rivals are fueling radicalization. “Race” and “party” will increasingly merge if trends continue.

White advocates are right to think race is the most important factor in American politics. If polarization continues, white advocacy will become mainstream, at least among Republicans. President Trump was just the beginning.