Last night I engaged in a deep and satisfying discussion about the Charlottesville tragedy with a group of men with whom I have met monthly over some 15 years to discuss politics and philosophy. Although I would describe those in attendance last night as seven moderate liberals and one libertarian/ conservative (me), we shared common ground not only in our rejection of far Right extremism but in our concern about violence emanating from the far Left as well as the nation’s increasing political polarization. And, while I was the odd man out on the issue of statues honoring Civil War heroes — the others mostly favored removing them — I was impressed by the range and nuance of views expressed, and by the fact that everyone seemed to acknowledge that competing principles were at play. It was a far superior, and more civil, discussion than anything I have witnessed in the media, and it gives me hope that the nation is not as deeply divided as we tend to believe.
Naturally, as all conversations inevitably do, the discussion turned to President Trump, in particular his pronouncements on the subject of the Charlottesville violence and the fate of the Civil War statues. Some of my friends speculated that Trump at long last had gone too far, lunging so far beyond the pale of civilized discourse, that he had virtually no chance of being re-elected.
I said I wasn’t so sure. While America’s intelligentsia, whose views are magnified by media loudspeakers, is united in its visceral opposition to Trump, we have little sense of what the working class thinks. If Trump’s economic policies succeed (or if by plain dumb luck the economy continues to improve on his watch), and if the unemployment rate continues to decline, and the working class and middle class start seeing solid wage gains for the first time in a decade, he might well get re-elected. Indeed, I suggested, Trump might even see an increase in Hispanic and African-American votes. After all, the primary preoccupation of the working class is jobs and wages.
I had no data to back up my propositions; I was simply voicing a hunch. Fortuitously, however, a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll of 1,125 adults across the country was published this morning that confirms that hunch.
The headliner finding was that only 35% of adults approve of “the job Donald Trump is doing as president” while 51% disapprove. I’m not sure how insightful that question is given the fact that some might support his policies despite finding him grotesque as a person and inadequate as a leader. (As coincidence would have it, I talked to my brother this morning, and he expressed that very opinion.)
Regardless, here’s what’s remarkable. Among those who approve of Trump, the racial breakdown was as follows:
White – 43%
African-American – 10%
Latino – 25%
According to exit polls, Trump claimed 8% of the African-American vote last year, and 29% of the Hispanic vote. For all the controversy, he has lost no ground with minorities. Let’s see what happens as the economy continues to grow.
Will Trump’s stance on the Civil War statues, roundly denounced in the media, hurt him with voters? The pollsters asked the following question: “Do you think statues honoring leaders of the Confederacy should: Remain as a historical symbol, or Be removed because they are offensive to some people?”
Sixty-two percent of all Americans want to leave the statues alone, compared to 27% who want to get rid of them — a margin of more than two to one. Among lower-income households (making less than $50,000 per year), 65% favored letting them remain as a historical symbol. Among non-college graduates, 68% favored letting them remain. Among the racial/ethnic groups, the breakdown looked like this:
Latinos apparently don’t feel like they have a dog in this fight. Like whites, they favor leaving the statues alone by a 2 1/2-to-one margin. The most astonishing finding was that the African-Americans community is evenly divided on the issue. For all their hyper-ventilating outrage, talking heads on CNN and MSNBC evidently do not speak for all African-Americans. My guess is that working-class African-Americans have other concerns. Agitation over Civil War statues is the luxury of the well fed, well dressed and financially secure.
Update: Some of the poll data was scary and, frankly, hard to believe. When asked, “From what you have heard or seen about each of the following, do you mostly agree or disagree with their beliefs: the white supremacy movement?” Mostly agree:
Whites – 3%
African-Americans – 4%
Latinos – 7%
More African-Americans agree with the beliefs of the white supremacy movement than whites? C’mon. Must be a fluke. But, then, look at the answers to the question asking respondents if they mostly agreed with “white nationalists”:
Whites – 4%
African-Americans – 3%
Latinos – 11%
And the “Alt-Right”:
Whites – 4%
African-Americans – 4%
Latinos – 11%
And the Ku Klux Klan:
Whites – 1%
African-Americans – 2%
Latinos – 6%