Is White Identity Causing an Immigration Backlash?
Racial change is making some Americans fear the decline of White majorities, helping Donald Trump and making immigration increasingly salient. Negative views of racial minorities play a key political role, but what about positive feelings toward white identity? Ashley Jardina finds that white identity drove opposition to Obama and support for Trump. White identity also leads to immigration opposition, but it increases support for entitlement programs rather than decreasing support for welfare. Eric Kaufman finds that the impending end of white majorities across Western countries is increasing support for far-right alternatives, with nativists finding an outlet for views they were forbidden to express by rising progressive norms.
Grossmann: This week on the Science of Politics white identity and immigration backlash. From Niskanen Center I’m Matt Grossmann. Racial change is making some Americas fear the decline of white majorities with important implications from the rise of Donald Trump to increasingly salient immigration. We know that negative views of racial minorities play a key political role, but what about positive feelings towards white identity? Is American replaying the ethnic conflicts that are dividing Europe?
Grossmann: This week I talk to Ashley Jardina of Duke about her new Cambridge book White Identity Politics. She finds that white identity and consciousness drove opposition to Obama and support for Trump even beyond other racial attitudes. It also increases support for social programs benefiting whites. Second, I talk to Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College about his new book White Shift. He finds that the impending end of white majorities across western countries is increasing support for far white alternatives with nativists finding an outlet for the views that were forbidden to express by rising progressive norms. Both Jardina and Kaufmann are focusing on identify as the key conflict in our politics. Jardina says objections to racial change are not only anti minority but pro white.
Jardina: Over the past two to three decades, American has become far more racially and ethnically diverse and part of that is because of increased immigration to the US, and partly that’s because of differences in birth rates across different racial and ethnic groups. And one thing as a country we’ve been talking about it how are white people in the US reacting to these changes? How do they feel about things like immigration, their numerical decline, the election of the first nonwhite, the first black president? Once obviously answer is that some whites are reacting with a great deal of hostility and hostility that’s motivated by their dislike of or their negative attitudes toward people of color. So in other words, many whites are upset by the changes we observed in the US over the past 20 or 30 years because they’re prejudiced or they’re resentful toward racial and ethnic minorities.
Jardina: In my book, I argue that there’s a second phenomenon happening. There’s a second thing going on and that’s that, perhaps it’s equally as troubling as racial prejudice but it’s different in nature and it’s that some whites are reacting negatively to these changes because they feel a sense of attachment or identification with their racial group with being white and they’re worried about their group status and about its ability to maintain power, to hold onto privileges really in the midst of a country that’s becoming rapidly diverse. And so these whites don’t necessarily actively dislike people of color, certainly plenty of them do, but not all of them. But they’re not eager for the country to become more diverse. They’re not eager for nonwhites to become a greater share of the population or for them to achieve greater political, economic, social equality because they think that when people of color do this, that it comes at the expense of their own group’s power.
Jardina: And so whites who feel this way tend to share a number of identifiable political views. They’re opposed to immigration, they think that immigration is bad for the nation and they’re worried about the country’s changing ethnic composition. They also support certain social welfare policies that they think will help their group. They like Social Security, they’re opposed to policies that are linked with globalization like free trade, and they were far less likely to vote for Barack Obama and they were significantly more supportive of Donald Trump and his campaign rhetoric, things like “Make America Great Again,” clearly appealed to whites who feel this way to their desire to maintain a particular image of the nation and that’s one where white people maintain their social and economic and political power.
Grossmann: And Kaufmann sees cross national identity polarization highlighted by the UKs Brexit vote.
Kaufman: One of the key arguments really is that it’s about identity and not the economy. That’s one of the findings that keeps reappearing in the data is that identity threat from decline, but in particular the pace of change tends to concentrate minds on that identity insecurity and that that’s ultimately what underlies right wing populism. Not left wing populism, but right wing populism. And so I’m quite skeptical of the kind of left behind thesis. I’m also sort of skeptical of the rural/urban type argument because I think once you actually compare apples to apples, so white working class voters in London for example are as likely to have voted leave as white working class voters in the north of England in rural areas. I think this is very much down to not rural/urban and not structural forces as much as these identity dynamics which are linked more to psychological orientations and dispositions such as openness, authoritarianism, status quo conservatism. So that literature and political psychology has been quite influential in my thinking and just by way of illustration, if you look at the Brexit vote in 25% of two person couple households in England and Wales that was a split on that vote. It just shows you the micro level, which I think aligns well with those psychological theses.
Grossmann: Jardina and Kaufmann both drew from their personal experiences and past research.
Jardina: I grew up in the South. I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. That inspired me an interest in Southern identity, and Richmond’s an interesting place. It’s the former capital of the Confederacy. The vestiges of the Civil War and conversations about race and Southern-ness and Southern identity and what that means are actually just part of the local discourse rather frequently. So I went to college and then to graduate school thinking a lot about Southern identity and what that is and what it might mean and not surprisingly, but thinking about Southern identity, I thought a lot about whiteness and the interplay between this geographic identity and racial identity. The second reason is that I was in graduate school at the University of Michigan studying with some of the best and most important scholars of race and white racial attitudes in the world and I think one of the things we’re trained to do in graduate school is to poke at the work of those who came before us and rethink the boundaries of the theories that they propose.
Jardina: So here I was steeped in the work of people who’ve thought a lot about immigration and white racial attitudes and racial resentment and racial identities and I was working with people like Ted Brader and Vincent Hutchings and Nick Valentino and of course Donald Kinder, and I was following in the footsteps of people like Kara Wong, and I’m thinking about Southern identities and racial identities and racial attitudes, and I start wondering why is it we focus so much on racial identities and solidarities among people of color, but not among white people. So part of the answer is that some of the work that people before me had done had been under the umbrella of symbolic racism and racial resentment, and it suggested that whites just don’t think about their race in this way. As the dominant group, whites have the privilege of taking their race for granted. Phrasing that people use sometimes is just as fish don’t see water, whites don’t see race.
Jardina: But I started asking and thinking maybe they’re wrong and I started asking if white people do think about their race this way, under what conditions might they be doing that? Because it certainly seems to me that some white people at least in the South were thinking about their race that way, so it was sort of the confluence of those two things happening.
Kaufman: I was born abroad in Hong Kong and lived in Tokyo for quite a number of years when I was young and so the idea of nation became more salient in real in the sense that I went to a school which was very international and so you’re more aware of nation as an idea. And then growing up in Vancouver, Canada where on the one hand I was a bit different because I have a multiracial background and most of my, about 80% of my classmates were of kind of British background. So on the one hand being aware of ethnic difference and then also living in a city that was undergoing quite rapid ethnic change, not so much where I lived, but certainly in other parts of Vancouver with a large increase in the Chinese community. So that was also part of the environment personally.
Kaufman: In terms of academically, I’ve been interested in these sort of themes really since the beginning. My Masters and doctoral work was all on immigration and national identity. The confluence of those two concepts as they played out in North America and so my first book on the rise and fall of Anglo-America was really more of a historical sociology of the decline of the Anglo-Protestant ethnic majority in the US through the 20th century and interested in that issue. And really the question that a number of us were really asking in 2004 when the book can out was much more why this dog hasn’t barked yet? People like Samuel Huntington and Carol Swayne. SO that was really the interesting thing was how in the US this hadn’t yet emerged as a major issue. Of course, it is now, so with the Trump and Brexit votes, of course that just sort of galvanized it, but I’ve been doing quite a bit of work looking at attitudes to immigration for example with britain beginning in 2013/14, that period. So it was kind of a natural progression.
Grossmann: They came to quite different normative conclusions on white identity however. Jardina sees it as inextricably linked to defending Americas racial hierarchy.
Jardina: In group attitudes and out group attitudes are independent and they’re distinct that you can display in group favoritism without necessarily displaying out group animosity, but the point that I want to make that is an important takeaway is that when we’re talking about this not just in these abstract psychological terms, we’re thinking about the real consequences of that with respect to race in the United States. One thing I like to explain is that just because white identity isn’t the same as racial prejudice doesn’t mean that it nevertheless doesn’t contribute to a system of racism. It does and so the fact that some whites might not dislike people of color but nevertheless want to maintain their power and privileges, well the consequence of that is the reinforcement of a racial hierarchy in which whites are at the top and have this disproportionate share of power and resources and other groups are at the bottom.
Grossmann: And Kaufmann sees it both as an inevitable reaction to social change and one that can be resolved through assimilation.
Kaufman: Really the book White Shift has two meanings: the term “white shift” means first the decline of ethnic majorities, white majorities in western countries, which I’m arguing is having important ramifications on our politics, particularly with regard to populism and polarization and the second meaning is a more longterm one referring to how white majorities in my view will through intermarriage and voluntary assimilation become mixed race majorities, but will tend to select and look back towards European roots, especially in Europe. So those are the two long term meanings of white shift.
Grossmann: Let’s dig into each project. Jardina found new ways to think about and measure white identity and conscientiousness.
Jardina: So I think about white identity and the way that a lot of social psychologists think about identity, is it’s just a psychological attachment to your group. One of the most straightforward ways that get at this is I ask people a single survey measure or a single survey question which is how important is being white to your identity? In an ideal world, we would measure it with three survey items. One is I ask people how important is their identity, how proud they are to be white and how much they have they feel in common with other white people, but single measure does pretty well when you have that and you only have that on a survey. And that is available on the American National Election Study and it’s been available on every ANES since 2012.
Jardina: So identity is different than consciousness and I’m not the first person to make this argument. This concept of consciousness is one that I attribute to Pat Gurn and Arthur Gurn and some other social psychologists who started thinking a lot about this in the 1970s and 1980s. But the difference between the two is that consciousness entails both this sense of identification but also a set of very specific beliefs about your group and how that group should behave. So it’s identification plus the belief that your group should work collectively, should work politically to organize arounds its interests. And usually part of those interests entails the belief that your group status is somehow not where I want it to be or that it’s in jeopardy by some out group.
Jardina: So get at this among whites, I ask them not just the identity questions, but I also asked them to what extent do they think that it’s likely that employers are not hiring white people because they’re hiring minorities instead and then also whether they think that whites should work together to change laws that they think are unfair to whites.
Grossmann: She says it’s quite different from racial resentment, but thinks both matter.
Jardina: The theory of racial resentment argues that you get your racial attitudes. They look a particular way so racial resentment is this belief that blacks do not subscribe to traditional American values associate with the Protestant work ethic coupled with feelings of anti black [inaudible 00:13:44] and the architects of racial resentment argue that people are socialized to adopt those particular attitudes, that you get them from the media, from your parents, from your peers, and there’s a whole nother set of work in social psychology which focuses on groups and group interests and what happens when you feel an attachment to a group and you feel like that group is somehow threatened, and so that’s the world that I’m trying to take us into and to work in.
Jardina: As I mentioned before, the difference is that racial resentment is very much an out group attitude. You can hold a sense of racial resentment without feeling any identification with your in group and vice versa actually. So that’s the conceptual difference there. Now practical difference is that they have different predictive powers, so there is some things that white identity is associated with, like for example attitudes towards Social Security and attitudes toward Medicare which are policies that have historically been associated with benefiting whites. And there are some things that racial resentment is really predictive of that white identity is unrelated to. So for example, we know that racial resentment does a really good job of predicting attitudes toward welfare and social welfare programs that are traditionally associated with benefiting blacks and other people of color in the United States. So part of what’s interesting and what’s going on today and part of what I’m trying to demonstrate is that there are some policies and political preferences where you’ve got both things being activated at the same time, and potentially capturing different sets of people.
Jardina: So today when we think about race and racial attitudes, part of what we’re talking about is certainly racial resentments. When we think about things like support for Trump, for example, it’s clear that people who are more racially prejudice or more racially resentful, they support Donald Trump, but so do the subset of white identifiers, people who are worried about their group and its status. You’ve got these two forces at play.
Grossmann: Jardina finds white identity is much more wide spread than a avowed white nationalism.
Jardina: White identity is found among a much wider swath of white Americans. I find that about 30 to 40% of whites in the US possess some sense of identification with a racial group and most of those people would absolutely reject any association with the KKK even though they might hold to some extent some of the same policy preferences. They don’t see themselves as having this attachment to these groups
Jardina: And the other thing I would say is that the difference between a lot of people who are high on white identity and a lot of people who are part of these white nationalist groups is that people who identify with white nationalism, they’re high on both racial prejudice and white identity. They score very high on the extreme ends of both of those measures and possess both of those attitudes. That’s not true of a lot of every day Americans who have this sense of racial identity. A lot of them score in the middle or the low end of our measures of racial prejudice and racial resentment.
Grossmann: Rather than deny racial difference, white identifiers recognize privilege and want it maintained.
Jardina: Most white identifiers recognize that their group has some degree of privilege and as you mentioned most of them are not interested in relinquishing it. They recognize that it would be worse for them, that their life outcomes would be different if they were to have been born as a person of color and yet, they, this isn’t this sort of progressive identification that a lot of social psychologists would talk about in the 80s and 90s when they were talking about whiteness or even what a lot of academics think about when they think about whiteness or white identity or white privilege. These whites very much want to maintain the privileges that they feel that they have as a group.
Grossmann: Jardina finds that white identity predicts support for entitlement programs, but does not independently predict attitudes toward welfare or affirmative action.
Jardina: So one reason that we find that white identity is associated or predictive of things like support for Social Security and for Medicare is that these policies have been traditionally associated with whiteness. I’m not the first person to make this argument. Nick Winter at UVA has an entire book on this. It’s amazing and fantastic. People should check it out, but he makes the argument that because Social Security has been traditionally framed by elites in opposition to welfare, see welfare has historically been framed as a policy that is associated with blacks, it’s associated with this idea that blacks aren’t working hard with this erroneous and disparaging stereotypes about laziness, about people taking advantage of the system. We all know and are familiar with the welfare queen stereotype. So welfare has been framed this way, but Social Security has been framed in opposition to welfare as a policy that is for people who are working. It’s a benefit for hard work, and so Nick Winters’s argument is therefore it’s been in the minds of people linked to whiteness and Medicare has been very similarly framed.
Jardina: What we don’t find is that white identity isn’t strongly predictive of attitudes toward welfare and I want to hold on and talk about affirmative action in a second because I think that’s the one that trips people up a lot, but in some ways, it’s not surprising to me that we don’t find a relationship between welfare and white identity, and one is that racial resentment is so powerfully linked to attitudes towards welfare that it’s hard to find a relationship between attitudes towards welfare and much of anything else, but it’s not just about this predictive power, it’s because the nature of racial resentment, the whole theory and the framework and the measure essentially ask about deserving-ness and beliefs about structural inequality and these differences between blacks and whites.
Jardina: One way of thinking about it is that the language of welfare is almost embedded in this racial resentment measure. I think the other thing too is that if you think about it, politicians don’t tend to frame welfare policies as policies that are harming whites. They tend to frame them as policies where blacks are taking advantage of the system, they’re taking advantage of things that they haven’t earned and so I think part of it is that most whites don’t seen welfare as something that harms them, but rather it’s just something that benefits a different group, a group that perhaps doesn’t deserve the benefits that they have. That’s the troubling, plenty of scholarship has shown that that’s the framework and the framing of welfare.
Jardina: Affirmative action is interesting, right? Because a lot of people assume that one of the major frames of affirmative action is that in fact, people of color are getting a spot at a company or a spot at a college at the expense of white people, but what I find in my work is that that’s not the first frame that seems to come to mind when you ask people their opinions about affirmative action. Rather, they’re thinking more about this idea that people are getting something that they didn’t earn or they’re taking advantage of a system. It’s not until you start to remind white people or prompt them to think about affirmative action as a policy that might hurt white people that you find any relationship between white identity and affirmative action, but for the most part affirmative action is very firmly associated with racial resentment.
Jardina: And so to suggest that these are two independent constructs like in the activated differently by politicians and they are different psychological processes that can have separate political consequences.
Grossmann: She also says it’s part of the broader racial realignment beyond dislike for African Americans from George Wallace and Richard Nixon to Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump.
Jardina: When we often think about and rightly so, we think about a lot of the campaign rhetoric that was happening in the wake of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and the 1970s, and we certainly know that George Wallace and then following in his footsteps Richard Nixon basically attempted to appeal successfully to Southern whites racial animosities, but for the most part, that story has been rooted in this idea that these politicians were mostly appealing to whites’ dislike for people of color. If what we take to understand white identity as in part a reaction to feelings of a loss of power or a loss of status or a loss of dominance, well, for many whites in the United States during the Civil Rights movement and we can think of other historical periods in which this might have been true as well, surely it seems to me that a loss of power and status were also part of what was going on. And you know George Wallace is notorious for his anti-Civil Rights positions, certainly for race baiting, but even if you go back and look at some of the rhetoric that Wallace used, it’s actually pretty familiar to the way a lot of politicians today have been talking about demographic change. Wallace was talking about how it’s a changing world, and I think part of what he meant, right, is that the power and status of different racial groups were potentially shifting …Jstatus of different racial groups were potentially shifting or at threat of shifting. And so I think for a lot of whites, this wasn’t just rhetoric that appealed to their racial animosities, but to their concern about their place in the world. And so Wallace arguably, well Goldwater arguably began that sort of campaign. But unfortunately public opinion data weren’t available for me to go back and look at the relationship between white in-group attitudes and attitudes towards Goldwater. But I can look at Wallace and I can look at Nixon and other presidential candidates. And what I find is that whites who felt more warmly toward white people, using this feeling thermometer measure where whites are asked to rate how warm or cold they feel toward other whites on a scale ranging from 0 to 100, with 100 being more warm feelings. I find that that’s indeed significantly associated with attitudes, support for George Wallace and support for Nixon.
Jardina: But it’s not predictive of attitudes toward other politicians during the same time period. So what that suggests is that Wallace and Nixon weren’t able to uniquely activate this sense of identification. Or at least these positive affective feelings toward ones group. And I find the same thing with Pat Buchanan, which is not surprising. Pat Buchanan and Donald Trump are very similar candidates. The differences that … Pat Buchanan certainly ran on anti-immigration platform, but he did at a time when immigration arguably wasn’t as salient of an issue in the United States. We hadn’t really seen the huge effects of the huge demographic changes that eventually we were going to observe. And Nixon sort of came in the midst of, or the beginnings of, big changes in immigration.
Grossmann: White identity was always important, but it has eclipsed ethnic identities like Irish and Italian.
Jardina: A lot of prominent sociologists studied ethnic identity in the 70s and the 1980s. But that work really waned in the early 1990s, in part because the same people studying ethnic identity, people like Mary Waters and Richard Alba, concluded that ethnic identity really wasn’t that important to Americans by the time we sort of hit the 1990s. People were still proud of their ethnic identity, but it wasn’t sort of central to the way they were thinking about their lives. A lot of people had assimilated by that point to sort of this general white European American society. And to the extent that ethnic identity was important to people, it wasn’t in a way that was sort of a politically organizing force anymore. We don’t really talk today about the Irish vote or the Italian American vote. I mean, potentially in in some enclaves and some cities that matters in local elections, but certainly not at the national level. Today, for the most part, most of those identities are not at all politically consequential, and they’re not politically consequential for a sizeable enough percentage of Americans, that it’s going to sort of show up as meaningful for us.
Grossmann: Jardina says it’s not just a new form of racism, but it has been activated by similar historical events.
Jardina: I don’t think that it’s part of the way that racial attitudes have transformed over time. The argument that I make is that white identities relevance to politics is likely episodic. It depends on certain conditions in the political environment, making whites both more aware of their racial group and sort of feeling like their racial group and its status is somehow threatened. So if you think about American history over a long period of time, for a lot of periods, white dominance goes relatively unchallenged. But then you have these major events, like massive waves of immigration that are happening at the turn of the century, big shifts in demographics in the early 1900s. Then you’ve got the Civil Rights Movement, then you’ve got the massive demographic change that’s happening in the late 1990s and early 2000s, coupled with the election of Obama. These are periods of time in which white status and their sort of power is potentially being threatened. And so my argument is that it’s during those periods of time in which we’re likely to see not just racial hostility as part of our story, but also white identity.
Grossmann: And high white identifiers were twice as likely to support Trump, but not other Republicans, even though Trump extends a pattern from Obama.
Jardina: White identity is a very powerful predictor of support for Donald Trump. So people who are high on white identity were at least as twice as likely to support Donald Trump as people who are low on white identity. And that’s even after accounting for these racial out-group attitudes, like racial resentment. A lot of people today are sort of talking about Donald Trump as this candidate who uniquely activated white identity. And to some extent, that’s true. So what’s interesting about Donald Trump is that if you look at the relationship between white identity and support for other political candidates in the 2016 presidential race, whether that’s on the Democratic side or the Republican side, Trump is the only candidate where you observe a significant and positive relationship between white identity and Trump support. So it’s not just any Republican candidate, as some people might believe, who has the ability to activate this identity, just by way of their partisanship.
Jardina: But if you went back in time and you looked before Donald Trump entered the stage, it’s quite clear that people didn’t just oppose Barack Obama because of their racial out-group attitudes or their racial animus. White identity was also strongly linked to opposition to Obama in 2012. So whites who are high on white identity were twice as likely to vote for Mitt Romney as they were to vote for Barack Obama, compared to whites who were low on racial identity. So this was clearly a force at play in the political environment before Trump entered the scene.
Grossmann: Kaufman finds similar patterns globally. He says white identity politics usually arise in response to quick demographic change, which increases the salience of issues like immigration.
Kaufman: If you look at, for example, I did a paper where I looked at support for the UK Independence Party at the ward level, but also using individual level data, and also attitudes to immigration in Britain. And you could see locally where, areas that had an increase in ethnic minority share between the 2001 and 2011 censuses tended to show an increased support for UKIP, for the British National Party earlier, and also more opposition to immigration. But on the other hand, areas that had an established, longstanding minority population tended to have reduced opposition to immigration. So you had this difference between established levels and sudden change. The sudden change then … [Matthew Goodwin 00:00:30:06] and I did a meta-analysis of almost 200 papers on opposition to immigration and populist right support that was published in social science research a couple of years ago, or maybe a year ago, where one of the most consistent findings was that increases really, over time, seem to predict heightened threat. Whether that’s expressed as opposition to immigration or heightened populist right support.
Kaufman: But I think for more than the local level, what’s important is the national level, the imagined community, if you like. Not as much the local level, which I think doesn’t account for most of what we see. Most of what’s going on, it doesn’t matter really where you live. It’s how you perceive the national as refracted through the media. So a paper came out by [James Denison 00:00:30:54] and Andrew Geddes at the European University Institute shows that in nine out of 10 west European countries, net migration between 2005 and 2016 tracks in increased salience of immigration and also tracks the populist vote. And that’s really the key relationship that I observe at the national level, which is it’s not so much that attitudes to immigration shift as numbers increase. So in Europe, numbers start to go up in 2013 significantly, peaking in 2015 with the migrant crisis.
Kaufman: What we see is not that people who wanted immigration to stay the same suddenly say immigration should be reduced, but it’s the majority in these societies that wants reduction, instead of immigration being the number five issue after health care or the economy, it’s up to number one or two. And that’s for 30% of the population, let’s say. As the numbers go up to salience … And in Britain this is a 70 to 80% correlation, looking at the smoothed trend lines between numbers and salience. And as a larger share of the population say immigration is their number one issue, that is what creates the opportunity for the populist right to emerge. So there is a correlation with that line.
Grossmann: In many political systems, mainstream party competition on these issues narrowed, opening an anti-immigration vacuum for the far right.
Kaufman: This is becoming a more important discourse on the left, that the class-based left is giving way more to the culture-based, identity-based left with race being a key touchstone. And I think what you see … One of the arguments I make in the book is that this sort of narrows the policy space for mainstream parties to be able to take on something like immigration. So if that’s associated with racism or it has a whiff of something that’s just not properly handled by mainstream parties, then I think that means that a vacuum opens up, really. So it’s a bit like, I use the example of a bootlegger, where if the mainstream outlets aren’t willing to supply liquor, then a black market will pop up and the bootleggers will service that category of demand. So I think that these norms operate and, in a number of cases, I think in Sweden and Germany, and also in the United States, I think that these limits really, on the debate, allow space for populists to emerge. So there is a kind of a black market political entrepreneur phenomenon, which I talk about in the book.
Grossmann: Kaufman says the U.S. pattern is somewhat different, but America is European-ising.
Kaufman: Anti-immigration sentiment that in the U.S. is somewhat lower than in western Europe. And if we look historically, the first thing to remember is that actually the proportion foreign-born in almost all west European countries in, say, 1900 was sort of 1% to 2%, pretty small, pretty insignificant. And you could only find analogies to what happened in the U.S. or in Canada and Australia, you could really only see that in a few localized spots. And where you do have sort of large scale immigration of a group that is culturally distinct from the local ethnic majority, I think we do see something very similar to to what we’re seeing today. Which is why I would be more surprised, in a way, if there wasn’t some kind of a response to the unprecedented foreign-born share and immigration rates that we see.
Kaufman: And so for example, one of the historical examples that I look at is the arrival of Irish Catholics into a central Scotland, particularly the greater Glasgow area. And this is late 19th into the first half of the 20th century. And what you see is quite powerful Scottish Protestant populist movements winning up to a third of the Protestant vote in the central belt in Scotland. And I think that phenomenon has echoes in the U.S. with what occurred with large scale immigration there between the 1890s and the 1920s, where we see a similar mobilization, strong echo, strong anti-Catholic seeds. And I think there’s a relationship there in the sense that … And a number of historians have written about this, in the sense that you’re introducing a significant shift, which is Catholicism in a predominantly Protestant society, as well as the magnitude of the change. And that leads to a politics which in some ways is not unlike that of today. So in Scotland, the Conservative Party actually had a lot of working class support back then, because it wasn’t just about income, it was also a cultural issue, which was the Protestant Catholic question.
Kaufman: If we then look at the United States, if we look more recently, what’s different about America, I think, is this link between numbers and salience doesn’t appear, at least it doesn’t appear initially. In the sort of 70s and 80s when you had large numbers of both legal and illegal immigrants coming into to the U.S., immigration remains low salience. And it doesn’t really start to break through until we get to the mid-2000s. I mean, there is some blips that start to occur starting in the 90s, but really outside of California and Proposition 187, it’s not really until we get to the mid-2000s that we start to see it in America.
Kaufman: And I think, there are a number of reasons that I give in the book, it suggests that supply side factors are important. So when you’re in a two party system and the Republicans are concentrating on neo-conservatism, which is about foreign policy hawkishness or religious conservatism, or it’s a Cold War setting, 9/11, these sorts of more foreign policy issues play to a more status kind of missionary nationalism, which is going to take the focus for conservative voters, for authoritarian voters, sort of towards external threats or towards secularism, rather than towards internal threats, if you want, from immigration and from cultural change.
Kaufman: And so I think there was a kind of a delayed response in the U.S. to this demographic shifting. And it’s only really starting in the mid-2000s, you start to see more people saying that immigration is their most important issue. And now amongst … And really what’s critical is from about mid-2014 with the arrival of the Central American refugee mothers and children, amongst Republicans, immigration is the most important issue for over 10%, up to 15% or 20% consistently, month in month out from that period. And it’s never dropped below that. That’s really unprecedented. It’s now up to almost 40% of Trump voters who say immigration is the most important issue. So that’s really quite a … that brings the U.S. into line very much with Britain and Europe. And I think that’s an important shift.
Grossmann: He says the lack of supply explains why right populism hasn’t come to English Canada, and we can now know it can come anywhere.
Kaufman: I think the supply side has a role to play, as I mentioned in the book, with particularly the American case, there’s no question that that is important. It’s also the case that it’s a question of resonance with existing collective memories. So English Canada is very unique in that it doesn’t really have a collective memory, because of the end of the British Empire destroyed the Brittanic Loyalist nationalism, which was really, had been a central component of English Canadian identity since the Loyalists during the American Revolution. So it was exceptionally fertile terrain, really, for left modernism to move in and become more established. So it’s simply a higher hurdle. And if we look at Quebec for example, which has elected an anti-immigration populist party, I think clearly it follows the European model. But in English Canada, it’s only just emerging.
Kaufman: Do I think it could emerge? I do think it can emerge. So if you look at the new populist or people’s party of Maxime Bernier. For example, there was a by-election I think in the Vancouver area, where one of the candidates seems to have reached about 11% in the polls. And I wouldn’t be, over a number of cycles, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a populist party emerging. I mean, one of the things that we’ve seen now is people said that right wing populism could never happen in Britain because of the proportional representation system, or the U.S., again because it didn’t have a proportional representation system. People said the same about Germany because of the Nazi legacy. They said the same about Sweden. They said the same about Spain which now has Vox, of course. And so what we’re seeing really is that all of these exceptionalisms had been falling one by one. And so I wouldn’t think English Canada is necessarily going to escape it either.
Grossmann: But Kaufman sees a broader role for the left. He says by switching from class to identity and institutionalizing a previously French ideology, they set the ground for backlash.
Kaufman: And I think it’s important to understand that what I call left modernism, which is really getting, some would call cultural left or the new left, this involves a turn of the left from more class-based materialist concerns to more cultural-based concerns around some culturally disadvantaged groups. This has a long history and in a way it’s a fusion of two ideas, one of which is to do with the left, or this idea of raising the week and weakening the strong to achieve equality. But also what I call modernism with Daniel Bell in his book “The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism” pointed to, which was an anti-traditionalist response. And that’s connected to cosmopolitanism. And it goes back really to utopian socialism, but especially to this the bohemianism of the mid- to late 19th century and into the early 20th century. And this is where in the United States, for example, around the young intellectuals in Greenwich village, 1912 to 1917, which was a real efflorescence of modernism. And Randolph Bourne, who is one of the pioneers of multiculturalism, emerged out of that bohemian milieu.
Kaufman: And his argument really was very much around that WASP Americans really needed to slough off what he saw as a confining, puritanical inheritance. And of course, with the Volstead Act prohibiting the sale of alcohol and closing down saloons, this had a more contemporary resonance for him. But he sort of contrasted what he saw as the stifling and confining and parochial Anglo-Protestant culture with the expressive and wonderful immigrant cultures. It could be Jews or it could be black jazz. And I think this begins to develop a trope around the idea that members of the ethnic majority should reject their own culture and move in a cosmopolitan direction, but members of minority groups should treasure and hang on to their cultures. So Bourne was really opposed to minorities assimilating. And I think that’s sort of the beginning.
Kaufman: And I think there’s an important contradiction there, because it’s on the one hand espousing a sort of individualism for the members of the ethic majority and on the other hand a strong conservatism or communitarianism for minorities. And those contradictions, I think, are emerging more forcefully now, because really this left modernism was confined to small circles of intellectuals, the young intellectuals, the New York intellectuals. Or in Britain, the Bloomsbury Set.
Kaufman: These were small groups that knew each other, that socialized with each other, who read each other’s work. And then you get to the 1960s, and this all, as Bell describes, this all goes onto a mass scale with the expansion of the university sector, of the television media. And so what I think has happened is much more of a scaling up, a quantification. It’s quantity, not quality. I’m not sure the ideas are radically new, that we see. It’s much for that these have scaled up and can now dominate in certain circles, for example, universities, tech companies, et cetera. That they are then become powerful enough to actually set the cultural tone. Whereas when Bourne was writing in 1916, this was very much a rebellious thing to sort to denigrate white Protestant or the majority culture was a rebellious thing.
Kaufman: But then it becomes, I think, as we get into the 60s and it’s no longer about Anglo-Protestants, but about whites, and about essentially, not being anti white, but looking down perhaps on that as a sort of square and not very interesting inheritance compared to the interesting minority cultures, that this becomes a trope. Which I think has, at times, become quite virulent. And I think this is where Trump was able to capitalize on some of what was perceived perhaps as a sort of anti-white sentiment. And so if you look at the American National Election Study, the pilot survey, which was the pilot study, which was done during the Republican primaries, you can see that variables like white guilt, opposition to political correctness, belief that whites are being discriminated against, all correlate quite well with warmth towards Trump. And in experiments that have been done, Ashley Jardina who you’re going to interview has done some of these experiments, where when you prime political correctness or you prime the idea that certain policies are racist, that tends to actually backfire and lead to increased support amongst some conservative voters.
Kaufman: So that’s some of the evidence that we see really that, particularly in America, I haven’t seen the relationship as strongly in the UK data or the European data. But there was a backfiring effect of invoking this anti-racist norm, which according to a psychologist, [Nick Haslam 00:00:45:07], that if you consider that the racist storm has expanded its meaning to encompass, for example, discussions of reducing immigration, if that’s held to be racist as well, the overuse, perhaps, or the expanded meaning and scope of this term then can lead to a blow back. And that’s sort of one of the things that we see, I think, particularly in the American case, is that perhaps the overuse of this term, it allowed an idiom, it allowed a symbol for Trump to to use that and pray on that. Again, in Britain and Canada, we don’t see partisanship lining up with views on political correctness in quite the same way. There’s just high, widespread opposition to political correctness on the left, on the right, in Canada and Britain. In the U.S. it’s more partisan. And I think that suggests it’s been politicized to a greater extent.
Kaufman: I think that suggests it’s been politicized to a greater extent.
Grossmann: Because it’s an ideology, he says, it can be shared by minority conservatives and opposed by white liberals.
Kaufman: I think a key thing to rationalize, say, in the American case is that this is a clash over racial ideology and not race. It’s not like Northern Ireland or Sri Lanka where you have two ethnic groups, or racial groups pitted against one each, one another. I would argue that what’s distinct here is you’ve got significant numbers of minorities who are conservative on these issues, and you’ve got a significant number of whites who are liberal.
Kaufman: On the conservative side there are a number of data points, but one of the interesting findings that was from a study which took place, a poll which took place soon after the Charlottesville riots where Asian and Hispanic Trump voters were as likely as white Trump voters to agree with statements such as, “It’s important to preserve and protect the European Christian heritage of the United States, that whites are under attack in the US today.” Majorities agreeing with these statements.
Kaufman: Also, in just some of the smaller [inaudible 00:47:13] examples that I’ve looked at, Hispanic and Asians, Trump voters are expressing a greater degree of sadness at the decline of the white majority compared to, particularly white democrats. I explain this really as a result of something I call ethno-traditional nationalism.
Kaufman: There are really two concepts in the book. One is white majorities. Well, of course a minority can’t be a member of the white majority, but the second has to do with the idea that the nation, which is the wider territorial political entity, and part of national identity for many people is the ethnic composition of the society. Let’s say a white majority with minority groups. That’s distinctive, or it’s distinct from ethnic nationalism.
Kaufman: The term civic or ethnic nationalism, which I think are too crude and emerged to apply to a different context of Europe during the 20th Century, ethnic nationalism suggest that only members of the majority can be members of the nation. Ethno-traditional nationalism, which is a new term I’m trying to introduce, I think, characterizes a lot of populous voters, which is that they are not saying that members who are, people who are not members of the ethnic majority cannot be members of the nation. Very few people agree with that statement, but they would like to slow down the rate of change to the ethnic matrix that they know in the country.
Kaufman: Significant numbers of ethnic minorities can be attached to, let’s say, American identity, but their picture of the America they know would encompass this kind of ethnic matrix, which is why they then can be drawn into that kind of conservative politics.
Grossmann: Kaufmann says we should allow a moderate form of white identity expression, because the cost of suppressing are too great.
Kaufman: Rightfully so, I think people look to history and they see that white identity in the Southern US was bound up with hateful attitudes to African Americans, and I think that’s right. The question I would ask is, to what extent do we allow groups to reform? We wouldn’t say you can’t express Christianity, because Christianity has a deep-rooted history with antisemitism, or Protestantism has a deep-rooted anti-Catholicism. We can see that in American history really up until even the election of John F. Kennedy.
Kaufman: I think saying something is in the DNA of an identity is problematic, so in Germany pop singers wouldn’t sing in German because this was held to be shameful. I think that’s actually quite a negative, not a very healthy way to proceed. I think rather I would like to see these groups remember what people did in their name, but on the other hand I think also that these groups should be allowed to move on. Just as Christians and Protestants have moved on.
Kaufman: I think we also have to, just thinking about the risks and dangers here, rather than comparing the risks of allowing the expression of a moderate form of majority identity, which by the way, is open to inter-racial marriage, which is what I talk about in the book. If you suppress that, which I think really is, to some extent, the situation that we’re in now, we have to compare the risks of that suppression not with a relative period of calm, which is what we’re in now, but with what the future may bring.
Kaufman: There are risks that come with allowing for the expression, and there are risks that come with continued suppression, or the attempt to make it a toxic thing. I actually think in the long term, the attempt to [toxify 00:50:50] is going to be more dangerous.
Grossmann: Although Jardina sees many of the same signs as Kaufmann, she finds it dangerous to accept organizing around white identity.
Jardina: Part of what Eric is arguing is that, in some ways, white identity is a natural consequence of diversification, and sort of just a pluralistic society and the sort of threat that people feel, which is certainly a similar argument to the one that I am making, but for him it’s like, well, once there’s greater levels of diversity and whites feel like they need to organize around their group to protect their group, well that’s sort of a reasonable path for them to take.
Jardina: I think the difference is that, my argument is very much situated in this idea that we live in a country, and certainly in a world where there is marked inequality across racial groups. One of the things I talk about in the book is this idea of a racial hierarchy where whites are at the top, or they have the disproportionate share of social, and economic, and political power. Part of what they’re trying to do is maintain that power, so arguably, even though white identity isn’t the same as racism in terms of racial prejudice, it does nevertheless, help to maintain a system of racism in which whites get to maintain the lion’s share of those resources at the expense of other groups.
Jardina: I think that’s part of where we part ways, is sort of acknowledging the degree to which racial inequality is real, and the degree to which that has real meaningful consequences for other racial groups in the Unites States.
Grossmann: Many white identifiers in the US do see minority celebrations, and ask why they can’t celebrate their group heritage.
Jardina: Many white identifiers would like to see a white history month. If not a white history month, they at least believe that the ought to be able to organize around their racial group in the way that they see people of color organizing around their racial group. Is this closeted racism? Well, actually yes, to some extent. Among some people, surely it is closeted racism. I say this because the people who are most likely to actually go out and propose a whites-only organization, or to really strongly advocate for a white history month tend to be members of these white nationalist groups.
Jardina: That being said, if you just ask people, like, well, would they support this, do they think that whites ought to have this official group? If you just see them ask a nationally representative sample of white Americans, you do find still that a sizeable percentage of whites think that they ought to be able to do this. I think part of that is certainly not because they associate with these white nationalist organizations, but it’s because there is, in the United States, to some extent a willful ignorance, but an ignorance among whites about structural and racial inequality.
Jardina: If you were to ask a sizeable percentage of white Americans, why shouldn’t we have a white history month, it would be hard for them to answer that question, and to really have a fully-articulated, thoughtful answer for that question. Which certainly is a problem for how we think and understand race, and racial inequality in the United States.
Jardina: For a lot of whites, they simply think, well if people of color get to do it, well why can’t we do it? I think that’s part of the danger of white identity politics here, is that whites are starting to sort of co-opt this language on the strategies that they observe other racial groups using to organize politically, and to gain political power, and in a country where they are starting to feel like their own power is waning.
Grossmann: Jardina says it’s better to avoid encouraging it, but it’s hard for politicians.
Jardina: Well, I think part of what’s worrisome is, in some ways this is a cat that has been let out of the bag, and so one of the arguments that I make is that, to the extent that we could shove it back in the bag, that might be the appropriate route to take. Ostensibly, what we now have happening is that there are these two forces in American politics that are super-effective, and certainly there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that we’re observing very similar phenomenon in Western Europe in response to massive immigration.
Jardina: What that means is that you’ve got politicians who are able to appeal to whites not just by appealing to the racial hostilities, but also more [subtlely 00:55:25], and perhaps more covertly, and perhaps in a way that feels more palatable by saying, like, “Oh, well we just want to protect your group,” or, “We just want to benefit your group. We just want to make America great again,” right? That sounds, I think, to a lot of people, a lot more reasonable, or palatable than to some of the more explicit disparaging rhetoric that politicians often use. Nevertheless, it’s still troubling and insidious.
Jardina: One thing that politicians can do is to decide that this isn’t the road that they’re going to take. Now of course, that’s a tricky request. One that certainly I don’t feel particularly optimistic about. We know, certainly from the success of Donald Trump’s campaign that appealing to white identity if an effective political strategy. Especially for republicans who are far less worried about alienating racial and ethnic minorities as part of their base. I think that we’re going to see politicians continue to do this in the very short term, and potentially for many years to come as the country does become increasingly diverse.
Grossmann: Despite fears from the right, and some opposition on the left, Kaufmann says voluntary assimilation is as strong as ever, and continuing at a fast pace.
Kaufman: Numbers, the inter-marriage numbers, if anything are showing an increase, which I think is sort of a litmus test of assimilation. If you go back to the left modernist idea of multiculturalism, which Randolph Bourne broached first in 1916, we can see why, I mean, he was very opposed to minorities assimilating, because he felt that they were just assimilating to a depraved and very boring sort of mass culture, and that was to abhorred.
Kaufman: I think this is partly behind some of the opposition on the left, and also there has, of course, been episodes of high-pressure state assimilation, a hundred-percent Americanism, or majorization in Hungary, or Russification. Clearly, that’s a negative, but in terms of voluntary assimilation, I think we have a lot of evidence that it’s going along at a healthy clip.
Kaufman: On the right, I think what you see, I mean, it depends. If we’re talking about the alt-right, far right, of course they are racially [exclusivist 00:57:48], so they’re not going to like interracial marriage. I think there’s also a broader trend on the right towards just worrying about loss of cultural distinct, ethnic distinctiveness. I think one of the messages really of white shift is that you can, yes you will have interracial marriage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that ethnic majorities are going to shrink and go away. Really, ethnicity is about subjective myths of origin, and the cultural markers that are used can shift. They don’t have to be about skin color. They could be about dress, and culture, and perhaps first name, et cetera.
Kaufman: Those can survive interracial marriage at a large scale, and I think that’s a sort of more positive way in which ethnic majorities in Europe and the US can see a path that assimilation can happen, and that a lot of their fears are not necessarily materialize, and a lot of their culture can be conserved. The collective memories can be conserved.
Kaufman: Equally, I think on the left, there will be plenty of people who identify with the cosmopolitan background as well, so I don’t think that this mixing necessarily means the end of diversity either. Ideally, we would have both sides able to look at this mixing in a positive way. That is the ideal, really.
Grossmann: He says polarization will proceed as parties divide on a globalist-nationalist dimension.
Kaufman: One of the things I argue in the book is, regardless of whether left [moderatism 00:59:25] wins, or populism wins at the ballot box, we’re going to see, in my view, polarizations. If, for example, the democrats win in the United States, then you will have the right wing media, and you will have sort of non-metropolitan interests represented in the Senate, and governor’s mansions resisting the federal government in some way.
Kaufman: I think what this stems from, or if the populous win then you’ll have resistance on the other side, as exists now. I think this stems from a sort of interlocking set of factors. The first is that due to psychological makeup people respond to integration in different ways, to ethnic change in different ways, so that’s the first source of division, if you like. That’s leading to the shift from left-right to a more globalist-nationalist cultural political axis.
Kaufman: Then you, in addition, have layered on top of that the progressive response to populous, or to the anti-immigration politics, which is to say that’s distasteful. That violates our social norms, and you see a huge divide on this question. For example, I did some surveys where we asked about, “Do you think a person, a white woman who wants less immigration to maintain her group share is, A, racist, or B, acting in a racially self-interested manner which is racist?” You see that sort of white liberals it’s sort of 80-90% say it’s racist. White Trump voters, conservatives it’s sort of 5-10%. It’s a massive difference.
Kaufman: This is not just about people’s reception of immigration, and difference, but it’s also about their views on the moral acceptability of this kind of politics of restrictions. I think for many progressives that’s ipso facto anathema. It crosses a normative line, it breaks a taboo, so that value difference gets layered in on top of just a difference to the reception of immigration.
Grossmann: Jardina agrees identity politics are not going away, and she thinks they’re important for minority groups.
Jardina: Our politics has always been identity politics, right? You go back to one of the great tomes of political science, right, the American voter, some of their biggest findings were about how people organize themselves into groups. It’s how you feel about your own group, and how you feel about other groups in society that gets you into politics, and helps you understand the political world.
Jardina: Some people would argue this is just sort of a natural consequence of being humans, that we’re going to see the world via our groups. Now, the other thing that I think is problematic about this attack on identity politics is that it fails to recognize that identity politics are the way in which subordinated, or marginalized groups in American society have been able to achieve political power, and to work toward greater levels of political equality.
Jardina: We wouldn’t have had the civil rights movement without identity politics, and we still live in a world in which there is very marked inequality across and among different groups in our society. Identity politics isn’t just a strategy that politicians use to try to win votes. It’s a really important political strategy that affects the lives, and the resources that groups in society have and are able to obtain and attempt to obtain.
Jardina: I think that there’s a reasonable critique of identity politics in that it, for one, can lead to greater social distance, and it can certainly lead to things like the sort of development of white identity politics, but it’s a fine here to walk between just sort of this blanket criticism of identity politics versus sort of recognizing that there is a place for identity politics in our society. To some extent, part of the benefits of identity politics is sort of work toward living in a more egalitarian society.
Grossmann: Kaufmann says the conservative backlash is also likely to continue, as other politicians learn from Trump’s success.
Kaufman: The combination of the declining foreign policy threats due to, we’re already past the Iraq war, we’re not in a Cold War phase, and with the decline of religion amongst the white working class in America’s another factor. Both of which I think would reduce the energy behind the kinds of right wing politics that existed in the George Bush era, for example.
Kaufman: Now, I think the immigration discourse has become much more entrenched in the conservative media. The supply side has now flipped into place in a way it hadn’t. Because of the transformational nature of these changes, I guess my sort of assumption here is that the US will move in that European direction. I think other politicians will have taken note of how well this worked for Trump.
Kaufman: Not only that, I mean, there’s now a transatlantic right wing discourse, and transatlantic media. Events that occur in Europe are transmitted to the United States, and vice versa. Whether that be to do with the excesses of social justice movement, or whether it’s to do with Islam. There’s a whole anti … A whole [Islamaphobic 01:04:57] discourse as well on the right of the spectrum.
Kaufman: I think there’s a mutual influence there, and I think the discourse has changed. That’s on, again, the supply side, but I think with that in place, and just looking at the value publics, there’s a lot of very similar patterns in terms of correlations between status quo conservatism or authoritarian values, and support for these parties running perhaps through attitudes to immigration. It’s hard for me to envision a return to the status quo antics.
Grossmann: Jardina says there are some signs pointing in the opposite direction. She’s now investigating why Trump causes white identity to decline.
Jardina: There was a notable and marked drop in levels of white identity immediately after the 2016 election. If you look at new coverage leading up to the 2016 election, you look at conversations that were happening in national discourse, and media coverage of this term white identity, not surprisingly there was a giant spike in November of 2016.
Jardina: At the same time, I also observed in public opinion data about a 10 percentage point drop in the number of whites who were willing to indicate that their racial identity is really important to them. That’s the drop that I hadn’t observed in over the past seven years that I’ve been collecting public opinion data on white identity. I’m working with colleagues, Nathan Kalmoe and Kim Gross to try to figure out who abandoned their racial identity, and why.
Jardina: That’s next on the agenda for white identity, but I’m also just interested more broadly in the nature of racial attitudes, and so I’m working on a second book project with Spencer Piston, and we’re interested in looking at the prevalence of scientific racism. Racism that looks like more old fashioned racism among whites in the United States, and linking that to criminal justice policy. That’s next on the agenda.
Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The science of politics is available bi-weekly from the Niskanen Center and on iTunes. I’m your host, Matt Grossman. Thanks to Ashley Jardina and Eric Kaufmann for joining me. Please check out their books, White Identity Politics and White Shift, and listen in next time.