Trump More Racist Than George Wallace?

Contemporaneous polling says Yes.

CNN’s Harry Enten contends, “More voters think Donald Trump is a racist than thought George Wallace was in 1968.”

Quinnipiac University poll out this week shows that a majority (51%) of voters believe that President Donald Trump is a racist. Forty-five percent say that he is not.

To opponents of the President, this poll may not be surprising. But think about it for a second. This isn’t just the normal opposition you’d expect to a president. This is a majority of voters saying their president is a racist.
Compare these numbers to a Harris poll from September 1968. Former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a segregationist, was running for president as an opponent to the Civil Rights movement. As he campaigned, 41% agreed when asked whether Wallace was a racist. That was basically even with the 40% who disagreed with the statement.

There are a few ways to look at these numbers, and none are complementary to Trump. You can say that more voters believe Trump is racist than believed a segregationist running for president in 1968 was. You could be generous to Trump and say that the spread between racist and not a racist (5 points in Trump’s case and 1 point in Wallace’s case) is closer because more voters were undecided on Wallace. Even so, the net margin for Trump being a racist is wider than it was in Wallace’s case.

Perhaps, the one bit of decent news for Trump in these numbers is that they are fairly stable. Even before Trump’s most recent comments, many voters thought he was racist. In the summer of 2018, 49% of voters said Trump was racist in a Quinnipiac poll. This was slightly higher than the 47% who said he wasn’t racist.

The stability of the finding is likely more significant than the direction in terms of the political impact. There’s very little Trump could do at this point to change people’s minds. If you don’t think he’s racist now, you could likely find a way to wave it off if he showed up at a press conference in a Ku Klux Klan uniform and declared “I am a racist.”

Otherwise, while interesting, comparing two different polls taken fifty-plus years apart likely tells us more about the times than the people being compared.

Wallace was certainly more openly racist than Trump. He was an unabashed segregationist whereas Trump would vehemently deny being racist despite ample evidence to the contrary. Then again, Wallace wasn’t particularly radical for his time. White supremacy operated in the open then; there was no need for code words.

Compared to the norms of his day, Trump seems obviously much more racist than Wallace. He’s seemingly a man decades out of sync with his era. And yet roughly half the populace seems not to mind all that much.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Public Opinion Polls, Race and Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    The majority of people of color say Trump is a racist and a majority of white people say he isn’t. So perhaps the difference in polling is simply that there are more people of color today than there were in George Wallace’s time.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    trump is more racist than most Americans in 2019 than Wallace was of most Americans in the ’60s. As you note James, this is hardly surprising. What is surprising to me is that “roughly half the populace seems not to mind all that much,” but that is more about how unrealistically high my opinion of most Americans was than anything else. If nothing else, these past few years have opened my eyes to the true nature of so many of my fellow citizens.

    Kind of amazing how inheritable a trait racism is.

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  3. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Both Huey Long and George Wallace used racism as a political weapon, but both had a certain amount of cynicism about the whole deal. Trump is a racist to the bottom of his coal-black soul; he couldn’t change now, even if he wanted to.

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  4. Hal_10000 says:

    I think the comparison between the two is interesting. Both used race as a weapon, whether they were racist in their hearts or not. Both brought out the worst in their supporters. And both portrayed themselves as men of the people, defending the salt of the Earth Americans from the out-of-touch elites.

    The biggest difference I can think of: Wallace eventually renounced his views. Maybe it was a cynical political ploy. But he did renounce them. Trump never renounces anything.

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  5. Kathy says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Did he renounce reason, or never made its acquaintance?

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  6. michael reynolds says:

    The big difference is in their followers. See, it’s one thing to be an anti-semite in 1930, it’s a whole different and worse thing to still be one in 1950. Ditto race in this country. A person who supported Wallace was racist trash, but a person in 2019, still promoting those same ideas is really a sick POS.

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  7. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Wallace was more of a racial demagogue than a racist, Trump is the real deal on racism.

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  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    Saw a link to this article, a report on George Wallace’s daughter, and she seems to think Trump is worse than her father

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  9. Kylopod says:

    Wallace was certainly more openly racist than Trump. He was an unabashed segregationist whereas Trump would vehemently deny being racist despite ample evidence to the contrary.

    Wallace also denied being a racist. From a Baltimore Sun article in 1967:

    He said, as he has many times before, that his image as a racist was created by “distortion by the news media, a majority of them.” He said his wife, Gov. Lurleen Wallace, got 40 percent of the Negro vote in her election last November and that in Selma, where the civil rights movement was centered two years ago, she received 85 per cent of the Negro vote.

    “That is proof,” he said, “that the Negro people who know us best know I’m not a racist and neither is my wife.

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  10. Kylopod says:

    Stephen King’s 2011 novel 11.22.63 features an alternate history where George Wallace gets elected president (an idea King claims to have gotten from a conversation with Doris Kearns Goodwin while researching for the book). My reaction is that it isn’t a tenth as outlandish as the idea of Donald Trump being elected president.

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    “That is proof,” he said, “that the Negro people who know us best know I’m not a racist and neither is my wife.”

    No, but it is proof that you and your wife were effective enough leaders and cared about all of the citizens of Alabama enough for people to over look it if it was true. That is significant enough also.

    Again, the fact that Trump is a racist is less significant than that he is lazy, incompetent, and foolish.

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  12. Tony W says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Again, the fact that Trump is a racist is less significant than that he is lazy, incompetent, and foolish.

    Only a white person would think that.

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  13. Kylopod says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: A few thoughts:

    (1) The article doesn’t say whether those figures are accurate. It simply says George Wallace made the claims.

    (2) There were no exit polls back then. There were other data-gathering methods for determining the demographics of voters, but they weren’t as reliable.

    (3) Although the Voting Rights Act was passed more than a year before Lurleen was elected, there was still almost certainly significant underrepresentation of blacks among registered voters in Alabama.

    (4) The Republican candidate, James D. Martin, was also a racist who held many of the same positions on integration as Wallace did. He may in fact have been more explicitly racist than Lurleen.

    (5) Even though Lurleen was commonly seen as a proxy candidate for George to get around the state’s consecutive term-limits policy, she probably was not viewed in the same light as her husband. It’s kind of like the way many people today who despise Donald Trump might be more sympathetic toward Melania–deserved or not.

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  14. Consider the source – Quinnipiac is a left-wing school and their polls are always biased.

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  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Tony W: True, but since I can’t change my race, I’ll have to live with it.

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