The headline of a column that appeared Friday afternoon got a lot of attention: “Trump’s racist appeals powered a White evangelical tsunami.”
Columnist Dana Milbank tackled the question on how more than 70 million American voters turned out for Donald Trump’s embrace of White Supremacy and racism.
Much of the Trump 2020 phenomenon can be explained by a far simpler way of looking at the electorate: There are White evangelical Christians — and there is everybody else.
White evangelicals are only 15 percent of the population, but their share of the electorate was 28 percent, according to Edison Research exit polling, and 23 percent, according to the Associated Press version. Though exit polls are imprecise, it seems clear that White evangelicals maintained the roughly 26 percent proportion of the electorate they’ve occupied since 2008, even though their proportion of the population has steadily shrunk from 21 percent in 2008.
This means White evangelicals turned out in mind-boggling numbers. Because they maintained their roughly 80 percent support for Republicans (76 percent and 81 percent in the two exit polls) of recent years, it also means some 40 percent of Trump voters came from a group that is only 15 percent of America.
White evangelicals have, in effect, skewed the electorate by masking the rise of a young, multiracial and largely secular voting population. The White evangelicals’ overperformance also shows, unfortunately, why the racist appeal Trump made in this campaign was effective. White evangelicals were fired up like no other group by Trump’s encouragement of white supremacy.
Robert P. Jones, a graduate of Baptist Theological Seminary, suggests Trump inspires White Christians “through appeals to white supremacy” because “he invoked powerful fears about the loss of Christian dominance.”
Jones runs the Public Religion Research Institute and issued a September reports that says “overwhelming majorities” of White evangelical Protestants claim that police killings of African Americans are “isolated incidents” and argue Confederate flags and monuments are just symbols of Southern pride and have nothing to do with racism.
Milbank says vast majorities of White evangelicals feel they are victims of discrimination.
They are, as a group, dying out (median age in the late 50s), and their views are hardly recognizable to many other Americans. Majorities of White evangelical Protestants don’t see the pandemic as a critical issue (they’re less likely than others to wear masks), believe society has become too “soft and feminine,” oppose same-sex marriage, think Trump was called by God to lead and don’t believe he encouraged white supremacist groups.
White evangelicals have become, in essence, an offshore island, one whose inhabitants are slowly but steadily distancing themselves from the American mainland. The fading Island of White Evangelica will, eventually, lose its influence over America. In the meantime, its existence points to an unfortunate, larger reality. There is vanishingly little that Democrats (or Republicans, for that matter) can do to persuade voters to switch sides, because race, and views on race, are the most important factors determining how people vote. Add to the White evangelicals’ turnout the votes of the smaller proportions of White mainline Protestants and Catholics with high levels of racial resentment, as defined by the American Values Survey, and you’ve accounted for the bulk of Trump’s coalition.
I was startled this week when, during a conversation with a prominent figure in Democratic circles, he blurted out to me: “People who want to live in a white supremacist society vote Republican. Those who don’t vote Democrat.” That’s hyperbolic, of course. Democrats are frustrated that four years of chaos and calamity and herculean efforts and expenditures by Democrats did so little to dent Trump’s share of the vote.
But his exaggeration contains a grain of truth. Americans are deeply, and for the moment immutably, divided by whether or not they’re nostalgic for what had long been a White-dominated country. Trump’s better-than-expected showing, particularly among White evangelicals, merely shows that he turned out more of the nostalgic.
America consists of people of differing origins, opinions and religions. While 71 million voted for Trump in this year’s important presidential election, more than 76 million voted for Joe Biden.
Many of those who gave Biden victory included Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos, Asians and Whites who don’t buy into the idea of White Supremacy or dominance.
Time to let the real majority rule in this democratic republic.