Presidential Campaign

Trump wins primaries in the most diverse states, and why that’s a problem

When discussing racial diversity and primary electorates, we’ve talked a bit about how well (or not) Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) perform among highly coveted black voters. As it stands, you can’t win a Democratic primary without substantial black support. Hence, Clinton comfortably wins in states with large blocs of black voters.

But so does Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

Obviously, we haven’t discussed black voters on the Republican side of things. For good reason: eligible African-American voters really don’t vote in Republican primaries. In GOP primary exit polling, in fact, they’re barely recognizable (even though there were signs on Super Tuesday of noticeable increases in black voter participation in GOP primaries such as Georgia and Virginia, perhaps a reflection of black voters attempting to stop Trump).

{mosads}However, while black voters may not be as relevant in the context of Republican primary results, black people are. Why? Because Trump is winning — and will continue to win — in states where there are very large populations of color. That doesn’t mean he’s going to, say, draw any significant chunks of black voters in the general election, either, if he wins the GOP nomination. But it is saying something rather alarming about the very white (and rather angry) base of supporters feeding his candidacy (despite the anomalistic black man who beat down the anti-Trump protester the other day).

So here are five reasons why you should be concerned.

Trump wins the majority of white voters handily in states with large black or Latino populations. That’s not saying, by any stretch, that he’s electable in a general because he’s winning in diverse states. It could be saying 1) something troubling about the racial mindset of white voters who generally support Trump; and 2) the overall shape of race relations or population group interface in those states. Look at the map and you can already predict what type of state Trump wins compared to what type of state Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) wins (John Kasich won Ohio simply because he’s a governor who clearly managed his in-state machine well, but he still had to sweat for it because Trump put on pressure with the Buckeye State’s White GOP primary voters and actually led among white voters without college degrees).

Of the seven states to have held a primary among the top 10 states with the highest percentage of African-Americans, Trump has won them all, and you see high white voter turnout for Trump wherever there’s a larger black residential presence. For example, Trump won 49 percent of white voters in Mississippi (38 percent black), 44 percent of white voters in Alabama (27 percent black) and 41 percent in Georgia (31 percent black). Thus, given this formula and Trump’s penchant for successfully tapping into white racial ethos, it’s easy to see him winning upcoming primaries in diverse states with either a large or nominally prominent black and/or Latino presence such as Wisconsin, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and other states. Notably, he won Arizona yesterday.

Candidates like Cruz only win where diverse populations are substantially thin or where white GOP voters are much, much less likely to interface (if at all) with people of color, particularly African-Americans. So, no surprise when Cruz wins states like Iowa, Alaska or Idaho. Trump obviously won very non-diverse states like New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts, but that’s expected since those are in his Northeast corridor home market. He wins also in states with large populations of Latinos or places where there is increased apprehension of Latino migrants (he didn’t win Texas since Cruz had his machine in place, but Trump sure picked up a sizable enough chunk of white voters to worry the Texas senator).

The racial animus level of a state predicts a Trump primary pick-up. As Civis Analytics showed, you can easily find a pro-Trump state or a state where the majority of white GOP voters support Trump by simply layering a map of bigoted Internet searches onto the electoral map. Does that prove the assumption that Trump supporters are largely bigots? Of course, we can’t tell, because most are not going to admit to that in a poll. But since voters are driven by their environments or set of circumstances, it does suggest that a typical white Trump supporter could harbor some rather unseemly racially charged views of their fellow black residents in a particular state.

The poverty in a state also determines levels of white support. We shouldn’t overlook the fact that Trump not only won the most diverse states, but he also won — so far — a majority of states ranked with the highest poverty rates. Expect more of that. Two things are happening: 1) He’s successfully tapped into the economic anxieties of low-income and working-class whites ravaged by recession, the destruction of the American manufacturing sector and a challenging labor market; and 2) many white Trump supporters may react negatively to the disproportionately high poverty conditions of African-Americans in a particular state or have trouble perceiving blacks beyond an impoverished social or cultural context, thereby feeding into common stereotypical generalizations of black life.

Trump supporters are not adjusting well to the increased presence of people of color. What’s worrisome is Trump’s ability to unapologetically tap into a very clever neo-ethnocentrism. Folks aren’t wearing white sheets over their heads or burning crosses. Of course they’re not, since public displays of bigotry have evolved beyond that and have become much more nuanced and sophisticated. Instead, the language employed is subtle, the racial dog-whistling pretty much wink and nod. Yet, the numbers are real: According to a University of Massachusetts poll, Trump wins big — 60 percent — among likely Republican primary voters who describe the massive growth of minority populations in the U.S. as a “bad thing.” It gets worse. In a recent Public Policy Polling survey, 70 percent of Trump supporters in South Carolina, for example, wished the Confederate battle flag was still flying and 20 percent believed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves was a wrong move.

Overall, race relations aren’t doing so hot. Trump’s Republican primary rise in these states is, more than likely, a reflection of deteriorating race relations — or, at least, the perception of such. It’s also propped against increasingly negative perceptions of African-Americans, further stirring a pot of uncomfortable racial tensions during an election cycle. Interestingly enough, YouGov finds that blacks are viewed (second to “Upper class people”) by 45 percent of Americans as “takers”; specifically, by 50 percent of whites. Rasmussen Reports finds that half the nation views race relations as getting worse. And even though Pew Research Center shows a slight majority of whites (53 percent) desire more progress toward “equal rights” for African-Americans, 40 percent (a lot) don’t. That seems to align with the 41 percent of Republican voters (compared to 61 percent of Democrats) who believe racism is a big problem — but, even as that sentiment among GOP voters has doubled, it’s unclear if they’re thinking of it as a problem for them (i.e., “reverse racism”) or as a problem for diverse populations.

Maybe we’ll all wake up one day to find this was, indeed, some grand elaborate reality show stunt by Donald Trump, who planned to release an Emmy-winning look at how politicians, political parties and their consultants use race to hustle voters. But, as it stands, Trump is playing with fire. Ultimately, if it continues at this rate, it promises to become an irreversible problem for everyone.

Ellison is a veteran political strategist and contributing editor to The Root. He is also Washington correspondent for The Philadelphia Tribune, a frequent contributor to The Hill and the Weekly Washington Insider for WDAS-FM (Philadelphia). He is also host of “The Ellison Report,” a weekly public affairs magazine broadcast and podcast on WEAA 88.9 FM (Baltimore). He can be reached on Twitter @ellisonreport.

Tags 2016 presidential campaign 2016 Republican primary Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Ted Cruz
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