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How Trump both stokes and obscures his supporters’ racial resentment


“The dog whistle metaphor suggests that the dogs — the intended audience — hear the message clearly. That’s wrong. The code is designed to hide the actual dynamics from the target audience itself,” Ian Haney-López, author of Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, told me. “It’s code designed to allow people who are racially anxious and who are easily fired up with racial narratives to deny to themselves that it’s race that’s agitating them.” [...]

There’s evidence behind the correlation Haney-López is drawing here: As researchers Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel explained for Vox, racial attitudes are a very strong predictor for beliefs about government spending. “For decades, social scientists have found that attitudes about race, particularly toward African Americans, persistently impact political attitudes and opinions toward government services, spending, and welfare,” they wrote.

McElwee and McDaniel measured racial resentment, economic peril, and support for more government spending. They found that higher measured racial resentment correlated with a preference for decreased government spending and services, while more economic insecurity appears to correlate — but not at a statistically significant level — with more support for increased government spending. [...]

This is something I’ve heard from liberal activists. “The racial narrative has been the weapon,” Heather McGhee, president of the left-leaning public policy group Demostold me earlier this year, to get white Americans to vote for policies that go against their economic interests. (Haney-López told me he’s now working with Demos and McGhee on a project to countermessage the racial narrative that conservatives use.)