Noah Berlatsky of NBC News wrote in 2018 that white Americans’ intolerance may be a bigger threat to our democracy than partisanship among political parties.

  • Political observers have been concerned that “increasing political polarization on left and right makes compromise impossible, and leads to the destruction of democratic norms and institutions,” wrote Berlatsky.
  • However, he noted one study that found increasing connections between white American intolerance and support for authoritarianism. Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson University and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M University released a paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.”

Berlatsky reported, “when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.”

  • Miller and Davis used data from the World Values Survey, a research project which polls individuals across countries on a wide range of beliefs and values.

Based on survey data from the US, the researchers found that “white people who did not want to have immigrants or people of different races living next door to them were more likely to be supportive of authoritarianism. For instance, people who said they did not want to live next door to immigrants or to people of another race were more supportive of the idea of military rule, or of a strongman-type leader who could ignore legislatures and election results.”

The data also suggests that President Trump’s “bigotry and his authoritarianism are not separate problems, but are intertwined,” Berlatsky continued.

  • He wrote that “when Trump calls Mexicans ‘rapists,’ and when he praises authoritarian leaders, he is appealing to the same voters.”
  • Miller and Davis quoted neo-fascist leader Richard Spencer, who “understands that white rule in the current era essentially requires totalitarianism. That’s the logic of fascism,” Berlatsky commented.
  • Miller said that the survey data does not show people rejecting American traditions so much as it shows “a preference for the sort of white-ethnocentrism that imbued much of the functional form of democracy for the better part of two centuries.”
  • Trump’s actions and “nativist language” have led to “further erosion of support among non-white voters,” wrote Berlatsky. Trump only won 28 percent of Hispanic voters, compared to George W. Bush’s 35 percent in 2000. In addition, “his showing with Asian-American voters was only 27 percent – worse than any winning presidential candidate on record,” reported Berlatsky.

“White people continue to decrease as a percentage of the U.S. population; at some point, it's going to be impossible to win a national, democratic American election with a platform that alienates people of color,” Berlatsky continued

Miller commented that the Republican Party has “increasingly been embracing a politics of white resentment tied to disenfranchisement.”

  • The GOP, “seeing their coming demographic apocalypse, has pushed voter ID laws and other barriers to voting to try to prevent black and other minority voters from getting to the polls,” Berlatsky explained. “A party built on demonizing and attacking marginalized people is a party that will have to disenfranchise those same people if it is to survive.”
  • Berlatsky wrote, “The growing concentration of intolerant white voters in the GOP...has created a party which appears less and less committed to the democratic project. When faced with a choice between bigotry and democracy, too many Americans are embracing the first while abandoning the second.”

Social intolerance presents a bigger issue than partisanship, because Democratic ideologies such as “greater commitment to abortion rights and free healthcare” do not threaten the foundations of democracy, according to Berlatksy. “In embracing the politics of white identity...the GOP made a Trump possible – and is likely to make more Trump-like candidates successful in the future.”

Read the full opinion piece here.