Nativist nation

What do we know about the interplay between nativist and white grievance attitudes and how they factor into politics?

The author(s)

  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Senior Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs
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This week saw some political wins (and some losses) for a political worldview promoted by former President Trump and now being promulgated by the candidates he has endorsed in the primaries.

Jarringly, these political wins come on the back of the Buffalo massacre that marked one of the most violent racially motivated attacks in decades and sent reverberations through much of the country. The murderer was an adherent of “replacement theory”; a white supremacist belief system that pushes the idea that immigration, interracial marriage, integration, and violence will replace white people.

Our research shows a strong correlation between nativist and white grievance attitudes. We have begun to think of them as an attitudinal syndrome—one comes with the other. Some of these dynamics drove Trump’s 2016 victory (i.e. It’s Nativism: Explaining the Drivers of Trump’s Popular Support, Our Age of Uncertainty). Nativism, as we define it, is a desire to promote and protect the interests of native-born people at the expense immigrants.

These attitudes are ever-present in our politics. They have a long history of driving politics in the United States and have come into particular force over the past few election cycles.

This is not the first mass shooting to result from these ideas and, unfortunately, it likely won’t be the last. What do we know about the interplay between nativist and white grievance attitudes and how they factor into politics?

Below are five charts that look at these questions among the public:

  1. Changing demography. The Census estimates that by the middle of the century, there will be no racial or ethnic group that makes up a majority of the population. Though, the fears motivating white grievance attitudes and nativist opinion have existed long before that date was in view. Demography is destiny.Demographics
  2. Foreign Born. Over the second half of the 20th century, immigrants began to make up a larger share of the total U.S. population, akin to levels seen during the late 19th and early 20th century. Nativist backlash drove some politics then as it does now. The numbers below tell it all.Percent of immigrants in the U.S. as share of the total
  3. Nativism and politics. Many Republicans back nativist ideas, and more than anyone, Trump understood and capitalized on that. What does “hiring people of this country over immigrants” sound like? “America First”. Such attitudes defined politics in 2016, 2018, 2020, and still today (i.e. It’s Nativism: Explaining the Drivers of Trump’s Popular Support, Our Age of Uncertainty). Look at the partisan differences. With this context, the recent primary outcomes in the PA gubernatorial and elsewhere make sense.Nativism and politics
  4. Profile in nativism. These ideas are most resonant among white, older, and rural people. Partisanship plays the biggest role in explaining these attitudes. But, other demographics that are closely related to partisanship, like race, urban-rural status, and age also matter. The demographic breaks below closely mimic our politics. A tale of two Americas—one more nativist, the other less so.Nativism profile
  5. Collaborators: Nativism and White Grievance. Much like nativism, white grievance attitudes are driven by partisanship. Nostalgia is the lynchpin—the nation that once was but no longer will be. These are the underlying beliefs that shape our political landscape today. Again, a tale of two Americas—one red and the other blue.Collaborators: Nativism and White Grievance

The events of the past week leave a lot to unpack. Nativist and white grievance attitudes drive much of our politics here and around the world, as our research shows. This is not new in American politics, but it has come more to the fore in recent years.

These politics don’t exist in a bubble. There can be violent consequences. However, unequivocally, such beliefs are deeply embedded into the American psyche and will condition our world long into the future.

The author(s)

  • Clifford Young President, US, Public Affairs
  • Sarah Feldman Senior Data Journalist, US, Public Affairs

Society