Trump Immune from ‘Racism’ Charge?

The President's approval is up and disapproval down after the latest incidents.

Dave Schuler notes that President Trump seems to have become slightly more popular after being roundly criticized for repeated attacks on four Democratic Congresswomen of color.

As of today President Trump’s job approval rating based on the RCP Average of Polls (sampled above) is 45%. The spread (the difference between approval and disapproval ratings) is 6.6 points, the most favorable since the earliest days of his presidency. The polls included in this RCPPA includes polls taken after the tweets heard ’round the world and incessant charges of racism. Those polls include Rasmussen (50%), Reuters/Ipsos (44%), and Economist/YouGov (46%). An approval rating on election day of 51% is generall considered a lock on re-election.

I don’t know what this improvement in Trump’s approval rating portends for his re-election but I think it’s fair to speculate that he is now immune to charges of racism.

The RealClearPolitics average is slightly skewed by its inclusion of the controversial Rasmussen poll, which is widely understood to lean Republican in its voter screen. Alone among the surveys included in the average, it shows Trump with higher approval than disapproval numbers. Indeed, the only polls going back months that show Trump at 50% or higher or in the black are from that firm. In fairness, though, Rasmussen is the only poll currently trying to survey likely voters; the others are still looking at registered voters or even just adults.

Regardless, Rasmussen has long been included in the index, so it doesn’t skew analysis of trends. And Dave is right: things are looking much better for Trump than they have in a long time.

Here’s the maximum view, going back to Trump’s inauguration:

With the exception of the first few days of his Presidency, Trump has been underwater. His high water mark came on 4 February 2017, when he hit 46% approval. But his disapproval was already at 48.3. The closest he came to being above water—with higher approval than disapproval—came a week into his administration, 27 January 2017, when he was at 44.2 approval to 44.3 disapproval.

By any standard, then, that’s just awful. Getting up to the magic 51% seems unlikely, indeed, when he’s never been above 46% despite a strong economy.

Still, the low water mark was a long time ago, too. On 14 December 2017, his disapproval was a stunning 57.9 and his approval a mere 37.3–a gap of 20.6.

He has, in effect, made up 14 points since and has had a relatively small gap—albeit a steady one always in the wrong direction—in recent months.

Speculating on his re-election this far out—long before we know who he’s running against, much less the state of the economy a year from now—is interesting if pointless. But Dave’s secondary claim—that Trump “is now immune to charges of racism”—is worth pondering.

The polling on this is fairly clear.

Americans say, 50% to 35%, that President Donald Trump is a racist, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, virtually unchanged from public opinion polling in February.

An overwhelming 88% majority of Trump voters say that the president is not racist, while an equally overwhelming 92% of those who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election say he is. Those who stayed home for the election or supported another candidate say, 49% to 22%, that Trump is a racist.

Here’s the raw data from the most recent iteration:

The results pretty much mirror the election returns: women, blacks, Hispanics, and the young overwhelmingly think Trump is racist; men, whites, and the elderly think he’s not. Still, even 5% of those who voted for him last cycle and 10% of self-identified Republicans say he’s racist.

I’d say, then, that it’s not so much that Trump is “immune from charges of racism” but that the racism is already baked in. It’s pretty much inconceivable that Trump will do anything going forward to convince those who don’t already think he’s racist otherwise; he’s certainly not going to win back those who think he is. And the “not sure” numbers are pretty small.

Clearly, for some of Trump’s supporters, the racism is a feature, not a bug. But I think most who still identify as Republicans simply think his “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” tweets are some combination of the old “America: love it or leave it” and “owning the libs” and are baffled at the notion that it’s racist.

Obviously, I disagree. While almost all of his statements and tweets—including that one—are defensible in isolation, his overall messaging going back to his championing of the Birther movement is clearly intended to pander to white nationalist sentiment. But I don’t think anyone who doesn’t already see that is likely to be persuaded between now and the election.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Public Opinion Polls, Race and Politics, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. steve says:

    What people on the left don’t understand, or cant seem to accept, is that Republicans/conservatives just dont care about racism. If a politician is racist, but promises tax cuts, then they will get GOP votes. Calling Trump, or any GOP politician racist just won’t affect GOP voting. Since Trump is maintaining a get out the vote strategy playing to his base, and at this point almost the entire GOP now makes up his base, pointing out racism doesn’t affect voting and doesn’t change anyone’s mind.

    To be clear, the very large majority of Republicans/conservatives are not themselves racist, they just dont really care about it. At this point they actually have very few values left. Owning the libs and cutting taxes are pretty much all they have left after supporting Trump. All those years when they claimed to oppose increasing our debt, opposed tariffs, thought personal values were important, etc, those values are gone. It is totally tribal and they will find a way to rationalize and support whatever Trump wants and says.


  2. Kylopod says:

    Trump’s job approval has taken temporary hits at certain points–during this year’s shutdown, for instance–only to bounce back after the event passes. But to my knowledge this hasn’t happened in reaction to any of the racial controversies, from Charlottesville to the family separation policy. So yes, it does seem accurate to say that Trump’s being racist doesn’t drag him any further down than he already is, because voters who think of him as a racist already disapprove of him. I’m usually skeptical of sweeping statements like that (anyone who believes X was already not supporting him), but in this case the evidence does seem to support the claim.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    I check Nate Silver every day. Trump is underwater 53 to 43 and has been underwater by roughly the same amount for a very long time. He’s been stuck at 42-43 points, and he’s still stuck there.

    Of course the racism is a feature for Trump, it’s all this has ever been about. He’s a hate-monger doing what hate-mongers do. He’s supported by people who enjoy hating their fellow Americans. Nothing has changed. As Bob Dylan said, the line it is drawn, the curse it is cast. We are in and have been in for three years, a fight for white supremacy. This is either a white supremacist country, or it isn’t. We’ll see. I wonder which side of that fight Schuler is on? I used to think I knew.

  4. DrDaveT says:

    I suspect that there’s a simpler psychology in play here that doesn’t have anything to do with racism per se. It’s the psychology of teenagers who are sick and tired of having mom tell them to put their dirty clothes in the hamper (instead of on the floor) and their dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher (instead of just leaving them wherever).

    Republicans are sick and tired of being told to stop being racist, and to stop trashing the planet, and to stop working to shift wealth from the poor to the rich, and to stop trying to make women chattel again, and to stop trying to institute an Evangelical Theocracy. Like the teenager, they don’t necessarily think mom is wrong — but they’re morally lazy, and fighting evil is too much work (and liable to cause friction with your neighbors).

  5. Kylopod says:


    Like the teenager, they don’t necessarily think mom is wrong — but they’re morally lazy, and fighting evil is too much work (and liable to cause friction with your neighbors).

    I don’t totally disagree with your theory–except I definitely don’t think most Republicans see their party as racist, and the few who do are generally the least racist among them. Racists almost never view themselves as racist, and from what I’ve seen conservatives as a whole just don’t take the “racism” charge very seriously; they think of it as little more than a political cudgel. This is true even when they accuse Democrats or the left of being the true racists: to them it’s just a version of “I know you are but what am I?”

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @Kylopod: I don’t believe I’ve ever run across anyone who considers himself racist, and I’ve met some pretty racist people. I doubt even Strom Thurmond thought he was racist. Like everyone else, he thought he had a realistic take on race. He was wrong, of course, and a racist. Even the biggest white nationalist will tell you he’s not racist, he just wants them to go back where they came from. Even the sainted Bill Buckley thought Jim Crow was OK because the dominant race yada yada, but Buckley couldn’t have been racist, he was a good conservative.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    @steve: I pretty much agree with you, except for the bit about tax cuts. Conservatives have NO fixed beliefs except excluding from full citizenship whoever liberals are currently trying to include in full citizenship.We have to distinguish between Republican donors who want tax cuts, and no action on AGW, and don’t care much about race, and Republican voters who don’t care all that much about tax cuts.

    In 2018 Ds did pretty good at picking up educated suburban Republicans. I’ve seen stories about focus groups showing conservatives fear being thought racist. There may be more “suburban” Republicans who can see the racism are are squirming about being associated with it.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    If you ‘just don’t care about racism’ in an era where the topic has been well-explored, it’s because you’re a racist.

    If you don’t care about children being molested, you’re a sick person.

    Same thing.

  9. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08: This partly goes back to the history of the term “racism” itself. It was coined in the 1930s in reference to Nazi Germany, and it was just a variant of an older term, racialism. Both terms originally referred to official state doctrines. They weren’t used to describe the beliefs or tendencies of individual people until some time later; to do that, you used phrases like “race prejudice” or “race hatred.” In Harry Truman’s letters to Bess while he was courting her, he wrote at one point: “He does hate Chinks and Japs. So do I…. It is race prejudice I guess. But I am strongly of the opinion that negroes ought to be in Africa, yellow men in Asia, and white men in Europe and America.”

    It wasn’t until after WWII that this kind of open bigotry started to become taboo in respectable society, and it was around that point that the word “racist” evolved toward its current meaning in which it was spoken about like a psychological disorder–one that nobody admits to having themselves.

    Nowadays, white nationalists generally deny being racist, but some do adopt the older term “racialism,” though their favorite term of choice is “race realism.” They often accuse others of being racist–against whites, that is.

    The term “anti-Semitism” followed a similar path. It was coined in the 19th century by people who thought it gave a respectable, scientific ring to their hatred of Jewish people. This was around the time when racial sub-classifications were all the rage. There were actual organizations with names like The Anti-Semitic League. Hitler unhesitatingly referred to himself as an anti-Semite numerous times, as casually as someone today might describe themselves as a progressive or libertarian. But, again, after WWII this practice evaporated and now virtually no one ever admits to being anti-Semitic, even people who say the Holocaust never happened and the Protocols are real.

  10. Scott F. says:


    I’ve seen stories about focus groups showing conservatives fear being thought racist. There may be more “suburban” Republicans who can see the racism are are squirming about being associated with it.

    This. That Trump is a racist and whether he’s immune to that charge, is not the story. The story is all the Republican politicians and the 88% of declared Republicans who have made themselves comfortable with supporting a racist as POTUS. They may not care about racism in our society and in our politics, but it needs to be made clear that not caring is racist. They need to be made to squirm.

    Don’t want to be thought racist? Don’t behave like one.

  11. Also: don’t underestimate the human ability to rationalize and justify their identities and opinions even in the face of contrary evidence.

  12. charon says:

    OK, so whether people think Trump is racist is baked in, nothing can affect it.

    What about the rest of the GOP? Does going on the TV machine to deny Trump’s tweets are racist, deny “Send her back” is racist affect anyone’s opinion of his fellow Goopers or of his party?

  13. charon says:

    @Scott F.:

    Yes, didn’t see your post before I posted.

  14. charon says:

    @Scott F.:

    There are kids growing up, perhaps just reaching voting age watching this. This may have some impact on future attitudes towards the GOP.

  15. Gustopher says:

    When he says racist stuff, it distracts people from when he is doing racist stuff.

  16. DrDaveT says:


    I don’t totally disagree with your theory–except I definitely don’t think most Republicans see their party as racist, and the few who do are generally the least racist among them.

    Oh, I’m not talking about the actual wallow-in-it racists who support Trump. Those are very real, and probably at least half of his supporters, and don’t need any further excuses than “Daddy says its OK now!”.

    I’m talking about the rest of the party, the ones James might be tempted to refer to as “good people and good parents”. After all, the lazy resentful teenagers don’t think of themselves as lazy, either, and the adults around them are prone to saying things like “They’re good kids, but…”

  17. Teve says:

    @charon: among young voters the GOP is about as popular as landlines and LA Gear sneakers.

  18. Guarneri says:

    Maybe people on the left should rethink their assumptions. Ad hominem attacks are a fleeting asset.

  19. Kylopod says:


    Maybe people on the left should rethink their assumptions. Ad hominem attacks are a fleeting asset.

    Indeed. We can get a sense of it by contrasting it with your high-minded commentary here at OTB over the years:

    “Poor Obama…. A bitter empty suit isn’t a good look.”

    “See how Spartacus reruns do, the careerist redefinition of Slick That Willie does, how Ben and Jerry’s Bernie Free Bonanza Everything sells, and whether Joe can keep his hands off the granddaughters. Then he will bravely vote present.”

    “The thing everyone is missing here is the obvious – Obama is displaying a very un-presidential characteristic here: that of a petulant brat.”

    “[H]as it finally dawned on the Obama supporters that there are so many transcripts and film clips hitting the airwaves as to make Obama’s statement ludicrous on its face, if not evidence of personality disorder?”

    “Back to jerkin yourselves off…losers.”

  20. @Guarneri:

    Ad hominem attacks are a fleeting asset.

    This is a remarkable criticism coming from a defender of the current occupant of the White House.

  21. @Kylopod: Indeed. A truly high-minded contributor who always brings the rationality and the evidence.

  22. Tyrell says:

    @DrDaveT: This is interesting: Trump is working to get rap singer Rocky out of jail in Sweden. The representative of NYC is welcoming Trump’s help: “we’ll take any help we can get” Rep. Adriano Espaillat’
    Trump the racist?

  23. Guarneri says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I apply the same standard to the White House.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    That is a lie. Also typical of you.

    You need to understand: just because you have no standards of truth or morality, doesn’t mean we don’t. Just because you happily feed on Trump’s pig slop doesn’t mean we do. You’re a racist, and a liar, Drew. Not to mention being not terribly bright and having nothing interesting to say.

    That’s what you are, everyone here knows it. As such you will never be accepted here or in the company of decent people anywhere.

  25. @Guarneri:

    I apply the same standard to the White House.

    No. You really don’t.

  26. @Tyrell: First, he likes celebrities. Second, this is just a variation of “some of my friends are black” as a shield against racism.

  27. al Ameda says:


    Trump the racist?

    You may not have heard the news but, Trump ran a 3 year Birther investigation in order to prove that Obama was born in Africa, that his Hawaiian birth certificate was a fake. So, yeah, Trump is a racist.

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “They’re good kids, but…”

    I think it’s important to remember that a fair amount of the time, the insertion of “but” in a sentence noting a quality serves to negate the assertion. They’re good kids, but [they do things that show they’re actually not]. I’m not a racist, but [my beliefs and/or actions show that I really am].