Posted on May 8, 2021

American Politics Now Has Two Big Racial Divides

Perry Bacon, FiveThirtyEight, May 3, 2021


American voters …

  1. Remain deeply polarized based on ethnicity and racial identity;
  2. Were less polarized by racial identity in 2020 compared to 2016; and
  3. Are very polarized by attitudes about racial and cultural issues.


Since American presidential elections are so close, fairly small shifts in the electorate really matter in affecting who wins. But I worry that the media’s understandable emphasis on those shifts often overshadows longstanding patterns in American politics that include the overwhelming majority of voters, who aren’t swinging between the two parties. Despite the news coverage that sometimes implies that non-Hispanic white voters with college degrees are all flocking to the Democrats, about 42 percent of that group backed Trump in 2020, according to the recently released Cooperative Election Study. About 64 percent of Hispanic Americans backed Biden, per CES, which might be hard to remember amid the intense (and accurate) coverage of Trump’s gains among that voting bloc.

In many ways, the 2020 election was basically like every recent American presidential election: The Republican candidate won the white vote (54 percent to 44 percent, per CES), and the Democratic candidate won the overwhelming majority of the Black (90 percent to 8 percent), Asian American (66 percent to 31 percent) and Hispanic (64 percent to 33 percent) vote. Like in 2016, there was a huge difference among non-Hispanic white voters by education, as those with at least a four-year college degree favored Biden (55 percent to 42 percent), while those without degrees (63 to 35) favored Trump. {snip}


So the main reason that Trump nearly won a second term was not his increased support among Latinos, who are only about 10 percent of American voters and are a group he lost by more than 20 points. Trump’s main strength was his huge advantage among non-Hispanic white voters without college degrees, who are about 42 percent of American voters. His second biggest bloc of support was among non-Hispanic white Americans with degrees, who are about 30 percent of all voters. According to the CES, over 80 percent of Trump’s voters were non-Hispanic white voters, with or without a college degree. In contrast, around 70 percent of nonwhite voters supported Biden, and they made up close to 40 percent of his supporters. {snip}


Trump did 7 percentage points better among Asian American voters in 2020 compared to 2016, 4 points better among Hispanic voters and 1 point better among both white and Black voters {snip}


At first glance, it might seem surprising that Trump gained among voters of color, since he often demonized Asian Americans, Black Americans and Latinos and invoked racist tropes. {snip}

But the data and research in the wake of the 2020 election suggests that many voters of color who backed Trump either already held GOP views on some racial issues or adopted those views to align with their decision to back Trump. So their views on racial issues are often closer to those of white Republicans than people of color who are Democrats. Meanwhile, white Democrats tend to have racial views much closer to people of color who are Democrats than white Republicans. When you put those two things together (white Democrats getting more racially liberal and many people of color who are Republicans not being liberal on racial issues), the results are that Republicans and Democrats are very divided about views on racial issues, even as they are becoming less divided in terms of racial identity (more white people are Democrats, more people of color are Republicans).

For example, around 15 percent of Black adults and 38 percent of Latino adults either said they opposed the Black Lives Matter movement or were non-committal about it (they didn’t support or oppose it), according to polling conducted by Civiqs around last November’s election. That’s fairly similar to the percentage of those groups that voted for Trump in 2020. Furthermore, about half of Black adults who said they opposed Black Lives Matters’s goals backed Trump in 2020, while only 7 percent of Black adults who agreed with the goals of Black Lives Matters backed Trump, according to polling from PRRI. Seventy-three percent of Latino voters who opposed Black Lives Matters’s goals backed Trump, similar to the 83 percent of white voters who opposed Black Lives Matters’s goals.

{snip} In contrast, to be a Democrat is basically to support the Black Lives Matter movement, even if you are not Black. About 88 percent of white Democrats said they supported Black Lives Matter last November, similar to the number of Black (90 percent) and Hispanic Democrats (85 percent) who expressed the same sentiment.

Similarly, among voters of color who backed Trump, 54 percent said they had never heard Trump do or say anything that could be considered racist, according to a post-election survey from PerryUndem. That puts those voters closer to white men who backed Trump (74 percent of whom said that he didn’t say racist things) than white Biden voters, 93 percent of whom indicated that Trump had said racist things. About 21 percent of Hispanic Republicans said that white people in America face a lot of discrimination, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. That’s similar to the number of white Republicans who have that view (28 percent) and much higher than the share of white Democrats (4 percent) or Hispanic Democrats (6 percent) who said that white Americans face a lot of discrimation. Most Latino and Asian American voters who strongly disagreed with the idea that Black Americans are particularly disadvantaged because of slavery and racial discrimination supported Trump, like white voters who held that view {snip}