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Mon Aug 31, 2020, 08:31 PM

Public opinion research: Ethnic antagonism erodes Republicans' commitment to democracy [View all]

(Please go do attack the methodology, the assumptions, the inferences, the conclusions, if you like. I have no thumb in this thumb-wrestling match.)

https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/08/26/2007747117?fbclid=IwAR2BB63bXBrlGChlzEoZ7_roozzDBrEXiCYiVbRvILCDfaBWY7YxzRLbT_s

Larry M. Bartels
PNAS first published August 31, 2020 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2007747117
Contributed by Larry M. Bartels, July 10, 2020 (sent for review April 29, 2020; reviewed by Donald R. Kinder and Paul Sniderman)

Abstract

Most Republicans in a January 2020 survey agreed that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” More than 40% agreed that “a time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” (In both cases, most of the rest said they were unsure; only one in four or five disagreed.) I use 127 survey items to measure six potential bases of these and other antidemocratic sentiments: partisan affect, enthusiasm for President Trump, political cynicism, economic conservatism, cultural conservatism, and ethnic antagonism. The strongest predictor by far, for the Republican rank-and-file as a whole and for a variety of subgroups defined by education, locale, sex, and political attitudes, is ethnic antagonism—especially concerns about the political power and claims on government resources of immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos. The corrosive impact of ethnic antagonism on Republicans’ commitment to democracy underlines the significance of ethnic conflict in contemporary US politics.

ethnic antagonismpolitical polarizationsupport for democracy
Political developments in the United States and around the world have drawn attention to the question of “how democracies die” (1). While the role of ordinary citizens in democratic backsliding is by no means settled (2, 3), concerns about “democratic deconsolidation” and “democratic erosion” have prompted renewed attention to public attitudes regarding democracy and democratic norms (4⇓⇓–7).

The frailty of public commitment to democratic norms in the contemporary United States is illustrated by the responses of 1,151 Republican identifiers and Republican-leaning Independents* interviewed in January 2020 to survey items contemplating transgressions of a variety of essential democratic principles, including the rejection of violence in pursuit of political ends and respect for the rule of law and the outcomes of elections†. A majority of respondents (50.7%) agreed that “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.” A substantial plurality (41.3%) agreed that “A time will come when patriotic Americans have to take the law into their own hands.” A near-majority (47.3%) agreed that “Strong leaders sometimes have to bend the rules in order to get things done.” Almost three-fourths (73.9%) agreed that “It is hard to trust the results of elections when so many people will vote for anyone who offers a handout.” In each case, most of those who did not agree said they were unsure; only 1 in 4 or 5 or 10 said they disagreed. These responses are detailed in Table 1.‡

Why do so many people endorse these undemocratic propositions? Political scientists have mostly conceptualized democratic norms as “consensual” and interpreted lack of commitment to them as a product of insufficient social learning: “Those who are actively interested in political events should encounter little difficulty in understanding the principles on which the system operates. Others, less discerning in their powers of observation, more circumscribed in their social roles and experiences, or perhaps more parochial in their perspectives, will be less likely to learn the norms” (ref. 9, p. 403). However, the antidemocratic sentiments reported in Table 1 are not primarily products of social isolation or insufficient education or political interest. Rather, they are grounded in real political values—specifically, and overwhelmingly, in Republicans’ ethnocentric concerns about the political and social role of immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos in a context of significant demographic and cultural change.

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