The Role of Whiteness in the 2016 Presidential Primaries

The Role of Whiteness in the 2016 Presidential Primaries

by Tehama Lopez BunyasiUniversity of Chicago

Donald Trump initiated his run for president by framing the United States as a nation in descent. Adopting the slogan “Make America Great Again,” he set his campaign against a backdrop of loss and declared a mission for reclamation. Numerous analysts claim that his candidacy and rhetoric galvanized white voters who feel left behind by changing times, but few have been able to provide direct evidence of a racialized sense of disadvantage, and most polls were not prepared to ask such specific questions prior to the Iowa Caucus. Using data from the National Study of Color-Blindness and Race-Consciousness—a unique nationally-sampled dataset fielded two weeks before the beginning of the 2016 primary election season—I demonstrate that Trump was not only the most popular candidate among white voters, but that he was especially supported by whites who think that their racial group fares worse in the job market than do black Americans, who feel that being white has been personally detrimental to their job prospects; who believe that there are generally more disadvantages to being white than there are advantages; and who disagree with the notion that systematic racism mainly benefits whites. My analysis argues that how whites think about whiteness mattered for their likelihood to support Donald Trump.

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