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A strain of racist, xenophobic populism is sweeping through many democracies, jumping from the fringes of political discourse to the mainstream. Understanding how Donald Trump was able to take power while making explicitly racist appeals is vital to understanding this phenomenon. This article examines the 2016 Republican primary, drawing on data from the National Election Study pilot survey to explore how, and why some voters favored Trump over other Republicans. Were Trump voters reacting to the adverse economic effects of globalization, or the 2008 financial crisis? Were they traditional “Southern Strategy” Republicans? Were they white nationalists? While I find evidence that negative attitudes toward Hispanic-Americans, Muslim-Americans, and African Americans strongly predict favorability to Trump, I also find that hostile attitudes toward minority groups are not as strongly concentrated as a “white nationalism” interpretation would conclude. Rather than a single “basket” of racially anxious voters, Trump was able to appeal to a grab-bag of people with distinct anxieties. Insofar as one might be interested in defusing populism, there may not be a single solution, but rather multiple ones aimed at mobilizing diverse targets of racism.


This is the author's manuscript version of an article originally published in New Political Science, available at It reflects work after peer review, but prior to copy-editing.



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