Democracy Meets Ethnic Antagonism in the Gross Old Party

Political scientist Larry Bartels has a paper with lots of statistics. It’s called “Ethnic Antagonism Erodes Republicans’ Commitment to Democracy”. It falls under the category “careful statistical confirmation of something we already knew”. But in case there’s any doubt, here are a few excerpts:

Political developments in the United States and around the world have drawn attention to the question of “how democracies die”. While the role of ordinary citizens in democratic backsliding is by no means settled, concerns about “democratic deconsolidation” and “democratic erosion” have prompted renewed attention to public attitudes regarding democracy and democratic norms.

. . . I find that substantial numbers of Republicans endorse statements contemplating violations of key democratic norms, including respect for the law and for the outcomes of elections and eschewing the use of force in pursuit of political ends. The strongest predictor by far of these antidemocratic attitudes is ethnic antagonism—especially concerns about the political power and claims on government resources of immigrants, African-Americans, and Latinos. The strong tendency of ethnocentric Republicans to countenance violence and lawlessness, even prospectively and hypothetically, underlines the significance of ethnic conflict in contemporary US politics.

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 Txxxx, political cynicism, economic conservatism, cultural conservatism, and ethnic antagonism. . . .

The support expressed by many Republicans for violations of a variety of crucial democratic norms is primarily attributable not to partisan affect, enthusiasm for President Txxxx, political cynicism, economic conservatism, or general cultural conservatism, but to what I have termed ethnic antagonism. The single survey item with the highest average correlation with antidemocratic sentiments is . . . an item inviting respondents to agree that “discrimination against whites is as big a problem today as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.” Not far behind are items positing that “things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country,” that immigrants get more than their fair share of government resources, that people on welfare often have it better than those who work for a living, that speaking English is “essential for being a true American,” and that African-Americans “need to stop using racism as an excuse”. . .

The powerful effects of ethnic antagonism on Republicans’ antidemocratic attitudes underscore the extent to which this particular threat to democratic values is concentrated in the contemporary Republican Party. Seventy-eight percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents in the 2020 survey had ethnic antagonism scores below the fifth percentile of the Republican distribution, while 98% had scores below the Republican average. . . . In this respect, among others, the attitudes of Republicans and Democrats are sharply polarized. . . .

One of the most politically salient features of the contemporary United States is the looming demographic transition from a majority-White to a “majority-minority” country. Several years ago, reminding White Americans of that prospect significantly altered their political attitudes. Now, President Txxxx and Fox News remind them, implicitly or explicitly, on an almost-daily basis. For those who view demographic change as a significant threat to “the traditional American way of life,” the political stakes could hardly be higher.


For those who view the Republican Party as a significant threat to “the traditional American way of life”, the political stakes could hardly be higher as well. I bet Prof. Bartels, after studying the matter, would recommend voting for every Democrat up and down the ballot.