New Facts Show the Prominent Role of Racism in US Elections
On August 24 at the 2020 Republican convention, Niki Haley declared: “America is not a racist country.” This was a perfect example of racism denial, and far more insidious than Trump’s obvious delusion: “I’m the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.”
Blacks know first-hand that racism is systemic. And the facts have long proved them right. Now we have new facts about racism in America. They prove the core strength of Trump and the Republican Party is racism, and that racists now exert an outsized influence on Facebook.
Calling Out Racism
It took mainstream media months of reporting on Trump before it finally marshaled the courage to call him a liar. Now they do it regularly. But they still hesitate to call Trump and other leading Republicans racists. Even though he, his supporters, and the Republican party are repeat offenders, we hesitate.
Some Democrats assert it is wrong to call Republicans racists. They say it’s taking the low road and we should stick to the high road.
There are two honorable and enduring principles Democrats should reference here: “Return no one evil for evil” and “Always tell the truth.”
Telling the truth is not returning evil for evil. Just because the truth is upsetting or offends someone does not make it evil. Returning evil for evil, or going low, is returning lies with lies. But …
- Calling out racist behavior is not racist or evil.
- Naming a pattern of behavior as racist is not racist or evil.
- Calling someone a racist who has a repetitive pattern of racist behavior is not racist or evil.
- Calling an organization racist because its leaders routinely ignore or deny racist behavior is not racist or evil.
These are acts of speaking the truth. It is taking the high road, even though it might be uncomfortable, upsetting, offensive, and even dangerous.
Now more than ever, we must call out the Republican Party, its leaders, and its enablers as racist. As will be shown below, their racist behavior is observable, definable, and measurable.
The Racism Continuum
Systemic racism does not mean every White person is an uber-racist. This is a classic “absurd extreme” argument tactic. It falsely distorts what the term means. It is a form of deception, which Nikki Haley recently used with effect.
Systemic racism means many aspects of American society are and have been heavily biased against Blacks for a long time.
The most commonly cited evidence of systemic racism comes from analyses of our criminal justice system and our economy. These statistics prove systemic racism exists. They are referenced often by Democrats and traditional, truth-telling media. And they are ignored or contested by Republicans and their conservative, denialist media.
At the individual level of behavior and thought, systemic racism implies a continuum among White people. It ranges from low racism on the left to high racism on the right. White people range across the continuum. Their internet searching and voting behavior correlate with the groups of statements made below, which marketers call personas.
By definition, personas are generalizations. They are rarely 100% accurate for any given individual. They do, however, interpret and summarize how large clusters of people behave and think.
At the left end of the continuum are Whites who exhibit low levels of racism. They know they benefit from White privilege, and they want to reduce the gap between White and Black gains in society.
These Whites know a total absence of racism is impossible. They know you cannot be White in our society without acquiring at least a few racist tendencies. So these Whites work to maintain awareness of their own racism, choose non-racist responses as often as possible, and strive to reduce the social and economic impacts of racism.
Whites on the left side know racism is systemic. It worries and upsets them. They are progressive liberals. They like the ACLU, ADL, SJI, and the SPLC. They tend to read a lot and track news on a variety of sites, including Daily Kos, Mother Jones, Democracy Now, BuzzFeed, or ProPublica. Some prefer to mix comedy in with their news and watch John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah, or Seth Meyers.
In the end, the left side is not highly respected by the Democratic party, which is traditionally held by conservative Democrats and center-left media like CNN and MSNBC. The left holds their noses and votes Democratic even though their progressive champions are consistently pilloried by moderate Democrats with Republican talking points.
At the right of the continuum are blatant, proud White racists. They tell racist jokes. They shout racial slurs in public or in caps on social media. They fly the Confederate flag with pride on their lawns or trucks. They collect Nazi symbols. They love guns and own lots of them. They openly hate niggers, fags, trannies, kikes or The Jew, wetbacks, Roe v. Wade, abortion, and Planned Parenthood. They often have fundamentalist Christian roots.
They spend a lot of time on far-right media like Gab and 4chan. They like to troll mainstream media and insult anyone who seems the least bit liberal. And they wear MAGA hats. They are happy to vote Republican, but see it as an interim step toward racial purity—toward white supremacy.
The remaining Whites—the bulk of America—are somewhere in the middle.
On the left side of the middle are White people who think racism is pretty bad, but prefer to avoid talking or thinking about it. They cringe when either side of the continuum speaks too loudly or stridently about racism. The term “systemic” goes a bit too far for them. Their motto is “don’t go low” by calling out racism or calling someone a racist. They greatly prefer compromise over fighting. They dominate the Democratic party.
They often read the New York Times or watch CNN. They occasionally watch MSNBC or read The Atlantic or The New Yorker, but that can be pretty upsetting, so they limit this exposure.
Blacks sometimes make center-left Whites uncomfortable. They prefer Blacks who are smart, measured, polite, clean, neat, and not too strident … like Barack Obama. They support gun control because they hate violence and think police get carried away sometimes. They like the idea of a higher minimum wage and broader access to healthcare. They are willing to pay more taxes for healthcare, schools, and the arts. They support higher taxes for the wealthy and corporations.
They are against telling lies and cheating for political or personal gain. They want things to get better for Blacks but think it takes time and that incremental progress is the only way forward.
They support moderate Democrats in the primaries and vote Democratic in final elections.
On the right side of the middle are those who openly say people exaggerate about racism. They think everyone has an equal chance in America. Blacks should get a job like everyone else and do honest work for a living. They oppose affirmative action and reject the notion of reparations. They think Blacks get too many handouts as it is.
They argue that Blacks commit most of the crime, so they get what they deserve from the police and the courts. They hate the Black Lives Matter movement. They hate kneeling during the American anthem. They think All Lives Matter and White Lives Matter are appropriate rejoinders to the BLM movement and recent protests. They support intimidating BLM protesters.
The center-right likes public displays of Confederate flags and statues. They don’t fly the Confederate flag at their home, though. Instead, they fly the American flag. They think homes that fly it are Republican homes.
They like guns and oppose all gun control. They like the NRA. They support police profiling and police unions. They oppose ex-con voting. Prison privatization is just fine.
They watch Fox News and use Facebook often. Sometimes they read Breitbart and The National Review.
The center-right thinks the Civil War was The War Between the States. They think it was about politics, not slavery. They don't use the n-word publicly, but they don’t make a fuss when others say it. They don’t object when White men use misogynistic slurs like whore, cunt, and slut when referencing Black women or Black sympathizers.
They don’t like spending tax dollars on public schools or the arts. They want public funds to flow to private Christian schools. They don’t mind lies and cheating if it serves their interests.
They hate being called a racist. They vehemently deny they are racist or that the Republican party is racist. And they voted Republican in 2016.
Nikki Haley exemplifies the center-right persona. Yes, she approved legislation to remove Confederate flags from the South Carolina statehouse in 2015. But she staunchly supported it before nine people were killed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. And she still defends the Confederate flag as a symbol of “service and sacrifice and heritage.” Her words model perfect center-right racist rhetoric with heavy denial about an egregiously racist symbol.
Joe Biden is far-left on the racism continuum. He speaks freely about systemic racism. He does it, though, in a way that is not too strident or radical for the center-left. He empathizes with the center-left and they trust he will not go too far. For example, he does not support defunding the police.
Trump is center-right on the continuum but openly panders to the far-right. He is the first president in over a century to do this, which marks him as an openly racist president.
Racism is one part nurture, one part nature. We inherit some of it, and the rest we get from our upbringing and those we spend time with.
In the end, if you don’t think racism is bad in America, then you are a racist. You are on the right side of the continuum.
One of the most blatant signs of a racist is their use of the word “nigger.” It is used to express Black hatred. It is the centuries-old, enduring invective of choice by the far-right, and it lies just below the surface for the center-right.
Its usage on the internet is often surprising and shocking. It is entered into search engines more often than global warming. Yes, Americans are more interested in finding Black-hate jokes and offensive Black caricatures than learning about one of the most pressing issues facing human existence.
Offensive uses of the slur are common on Facebook, Twitter, and other less well-known social media such as 4chan/pol/ and Gab. Most relevant here, its use on search engines is easy to measure using Google Trends.
Racism in 2016
During the 2016 presidential campaign, we knew racism was a prominent issue. But most experts thought Trump’s racism was hurting him. In fact, it was helping.
As we can see in the map above, the deep south had a high interest in the racial slur “nigger” during most of 2016. In other words, Trump’s racism was well-aligned with southern interests, including Nikki Haley’s South Carolina. Racism also resonated with key northern states like Michigan and Pennsylvania in 2016, which were essential to Trump’s victory.
The strength of the racism / Trump connection is shown in an X-Y plot of 44 states below. Relative search volume, or interest, in nigger is on the horizontal X-axis. Trump’s percent of the popular vote on the vertical Y-axis.
Relationships for such large groups of US citizens are rare in marketing. The pattern is clear: racist states gave more of their popular vote to Trump. For example, South Carolina had a high interest in nigger, and gave Trump 55% of its popular vote in 2016. Conversely, less racist states gave less of their popular vote to Trump. While it is not a perfect relationship, it is one that Trump used with great success in 2016, and continues to leverage in his campaign for a second term.
Previous research shows the critical role played by Facebook in supporting Trump’s 2016 election. Below we can see why: Facebook was shockingly well aligned with racism in 2016. States with high interest in nigger were also heavy Facebook users. Again, the correlation of .80 for 49 states is extremely high.
In other words, there were unmistakable and undeniably strong connections among racism, Facebook, and Trump’s 2016 victory.
Did Fox News play a significant role in supporting Trump’s election? And is Fox News well aligned with racism? The two charts below show Fox News played a very significant role in Trump’s election, but it is less tightly associated with racism.
Forty-seven out of 50 states were tightly aligned (correlation = .80) between Fox News and Trump’s 2016 election results. This is a very powerful finding. It means the accusations about Fox News’ alignment with Trump’s 2016 victory are not only obvious, but they are also strongly supported by the data.
The connection between Fox News and racism was noticeable (correlation = .61 for 45 states) in 2016, but not as strong as it was for Facebook (correlation = .80 for 49 states). So, from a marketer’s perspective, Facebook would have been a far more efficient media channel than Fox News for sending racist messages.
Racism in 2020: Three Trends
Racism was the most important driver in Trump’s 2016 election success. Some describe this phenomenon as a backlash for eight years of a Black president. Black hatred grew during Obama’s two terms and was mobilized by Trump.
But Trump’s victory is far more than a backlash against Obama. Racism is the single most divisive issue in US history. Trump just exploits it more than his predecessors. Why does he spend so much time blaming Obama? Not just because Obama is Black, but also because blaming Obama satisfies a deep racist craving. A deep-seated culturally reinforced hatred of Blacks.
Many insist that media, especially Facebook and Fox News, were the most important contributors to Trump’s 2016 success. This logic focuses on the medium and ignores the message. Trump’s message was racist. Trump’s theme was racism. Facebook and Fox News shamelessly raked in the profits by aiding and abetting Trump’s racist rhetoric.
Is racism still a critical variable in 2020? Well, the trends hold mostly good news and some important bad news.
The Good News
The good news in the three trends is summarized below:
- Declining Interest in Facebook. The best news in the three trends is that interest in Facebook is declining significantly. This means the racist messages on Facebook reach fewer people, and reach them less often than was the case in 2016. It has more competition on the internet (especially from YouTube) and tremendous pressure from advertisers and Congress to spot and remove offensive and dangerous ads and posts.
- Declining Interest in Racism. The racism measure, nigger, declined since November 2016. While it has spiked multiple times since, its overall trend is one of decline. More on the spikes in the Bad News section below.
- Fox News is Growing, but Not Enough. Fox News peaked in November of 2016 and has not approached that level of interest since. More importantly, its growth is not nearly as significant and the decline in Facebook.
Facebook publicizes its user count but not its actual usage (total time, average time per user, etc.). While the Facebook app may account for some of the decline in Facebook access via browsers, Google Trends internet statistics are a solid estimate of the trend surrounding Facebook’s actual usage. In all likelihood, Facebook usage has declined significantly since November 2016.
The Bad News
While there is more good news than bad in the trends, here are the major dangers looming over the 2020 election:
- Racism Spikes Quickly and Intensely. Interest in “nigger” spiked on January 26, 2020. Do you know what happened that day? Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. The national outpouring of love, grief, and admiration was just too much for America’s racists. So they took to the internet, looking for Black-hate content. Then the activity quickly subsided.
- Race to the Bottom. The top two media outlets in 2016 for spreading racist messages, Facebook and Fox News, are now in head-to-head competition on the internet. This could trigger a race to the bottom. They may become even less diligent about dangerous, violence-provoking content.
Facebook’s recent failure to remove the Kenosha Guard militia event is an example. Although Zuckerberg called it a mistake, he also called it an operational error and blamed their independent contractor.
- Racists Are On High Alert. This is perhaps the most ominous of the bad news. There have been two large and somewhat prolonged spikes in “nigger” search activity since January 2020. They both correspond with the murder of George Floyd on May 25 and subsequent protests and riots across the country. Between now and November 8, more racist fuses are likely to be lit by Trump and his supporters. Racism seems primed and ready to explode.
Updated Election Forecast
My prior 2020 election forecast was made on August 24th. It gave 57% of the electoral vote to Biden. As of August 31, which includes the Republican National Convention and the Kenosha protests and killings, my forecast holds steady at 57% of the electoral vote. But there are several key changes:
- Wisconsin and Florida now strongly favor Biden. Before, they were leaning toward Biden. They represent 39 electoral votes (10 and 29) that previously went to Trump.
- Texas now joins New Mexico on the fence between Trump and Biden. But the movement of Texas toward Biden is far more significant, with its 38 electoral votes (compared to 5 for New Mexico). Texas is now the key state to watch.
- Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Utah are still firmly on the Biden side. They take 37 electoral votes away from Trump’s 2016 tally (11, 20, and 6).
As of the end of August, the picture has strengthened substantially for Democrats. The trends right now are in their favor, and they are impacting key swings states like Texas, Wisconsin, and Florida.