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Poll: voters who reject racism are more energized for 2020 than they were in 2016

“Anti-black” voters used to be the more politically engaged group in 2016. A new poll shows that’s not the case anymore.

Members of Political Action protest President Trump on March 16, 2016, in New York City.
Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Political Action

Anti-black voters were a highly politically engaged group in 2016. Fourteen months out from the 2020 presidential election, however, it’s those who reject racial stereotypes that are more interested in voting — which could be bad news for President Donald Trump.

According to a new Reuters/Ipsos poll, 82 percent of people who reject anti-black ideas said they were strongly interested in voting, up from 70 percent in 2016. In comparison, 75 percent of anti-black voters expressed a strong interest in voting in 2020.

The poll comes as Trump has been under fire for his divisive rhetoric. Last month, he was criticized for racist tweets he sent telling four lawmakers of color — Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — to “go back” to the “corrupt” countries they’re from. Shortly after, his supporters chanted “send her back” as Trump attacked Omar during a rally in North Carolina.

The poll, which surveyed 4,436 US adults from July 17 to 22 with a credibility interval of 2 percentage points, asked “respondents to rate people of different races on a series of personality traits,” such as intelligence, work ethic, and lawfulness, among others. It used these answers to determine whether the person answering was anti-black, pro-black, or neutral. It then looked at how these people answered questions about their interest in voting in the 2020 presidential election, and compared the results to similar polls held between 2016 and 2018.

A potential explanation for this phenomenon: White Americans experience less racial anxiety under Trump.

Racial anxiety, which peaked during President Barack Obama’s administration, began to simmer down as Trump promoted a “restoration of a white identity that they previously had felt was under attack,” Ithaca College professor Paula Ioanide told Reuters. This can be seen in the dropping number of respondents who said that “white people are currently under attack in this country”: 17 percent of white people strongly agreed in the Reuters/Ipsos poll, which is a 6-point drop from 2017, as did 26 percent of white Republicans, an 8-point drop from 2017.

A similar trend could be seen in the percentage of people who said that “America must protect and preserve its White European heritage”: 29 percent of white Americans agreed, which is a 7-point drop from a 2017 Reuters/Ipsos poll and a 9-point drop from a 2018 Reuters/Ipsos poll.

But the same rhetoric that may be validating some white Americans could also be energizing Democratic voters, University of California Irvine political science professor Michael Tesler told Reuters.

“They may not care that much about race initially, and then they see Trump pushing on race so hard,” he said. “And so they push back.”

Even when it’s not making people more politically engaged, race itself has become a polarizing subject under Trump. The share of respondents with strong pro-black sentiments — which was originally 9 percent in 2016 — rose to 14 percent in 2019. The share of strong anti-black respondents rose from 16 percent to 18 percent over the same period. Meanwhile, the share of neutral respondents dropped from 32 percent in 2016 to 28 percent in 2019.

Trump has always used race to his advantage. This time around, however, he might have fired up the wrong side.