UCSB study shows those with strong white racial identity more likely to support Trump

Oct 25, 2016

A new study out of UC Santa Barbara suggests a possible reason why many white Americans are throwing their support behind Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump this year. 

Psychologist Brenda Major designed the study and told KCXB that the nation’s growing diversity may be at the core.

Major is a professor in UCSB’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and specializes in social identity. Her findings were published in the journal Group Processes and Intergroup Relations.

UCSB Professor Brenda Major was interviewed by KCBX News Director Randol White:

  • NOTE: This transcript is from an interview that was edited for time purposes.

Randol White: Talk a bit about how you went about this and what you found.

Brenda Major: So what's unique about this particular study compared to other studies or you know results that you see reported in the news is that this is an experiment. So people were randomly assigned to either read about that the country is becoming more racially diverse and that non whites will outnumber whites by the middle of the century or they were randomly assigned to read what we would call a control article this one talked about increasing geographical mobility. So because it's an experiment that means that if people who read about increasing racial diversity behaved differently than those in the control group we know that racial diversity — that cue about increasing racial diversity — caused the change in their behavior. We also measured how identified they were with their ethnicity. This is a widely used scale that asks people for example how important is your ethnicity to your self-concept. You know how much is your ethnicity a part of who you are. So we measured ethnic identification and we manipulated whether people read this short paragraph about the racial shift or not.

White:Your research show and previous research shows, the higher somebody’s white identification, the more politically conservative and anti-immigrant they tend to be. But your research specifically has some nuances. Can you explain those for us?

Major: One of the things that was surprising to us is we ran this in March during the primaries and we had thought it might make people shift more in the direction of all of the Republican candidates. But in fact it only increased support for Trump and that's because we think that Trump satisfies or promises to assuage precisely the threat that increasing diversity is creating for white Americans who are highly ethnically identified. The other thing we didn't expect but I think is very important is that for whites who are low in ethnic identification that racial shift condition actually made them less likely to vote for Trump. So the highly identified became more likely to vote for Trump and the less identified became less likely to vote for Trump.

White: As demographics change in the U.S., what role will white-identity politics play in the shaping of the nation's political parties?

Major: Psychological theories about social identity basically say we derive a sense of our own self-worth from the groups with which we identify. That's why we root for sports teams and feel so good when they win. So, if in fact we have increasing racial diversity, then being white all of a sudden becomes an ethnic identity, which when everybody's white it's not so much of an ethnic identity. But, theories of social identities basically say, identities basically become salient when we can compare them to other identities. So, one of the conclusions, I think, is that white-identity politics is here to stay. As the country becomes more diverse, it's going to play more of a role in politics.

White: Beyond the November 8th election?

Major: Beyond the November 8th election.