Jun 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

2022's war over racism

Illustration of the American flag with a stripe as a red carpet with a portable rope barrier beside it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With or without Donald J. Trump atop the party, the Republican strategy for the 2022 elections and beyond virtually assures race — and racism — will be central to political debate for years to come. 

Why it matters: In an era when every topic seems to turn quickly to race, Republicans see this most divisive issue as either political necessity or an election-winner — including as it relates to voting laws, critical race theory, big-city crime, immigration and political correctness. 

The big picture: These topics pit the mostly white GOP against the very diverse Democratic Party. It's unfolding in local school boards, national politics and on social media.

An Axios-Ipsos poll on race relations last month shows this starkly, Axios managing editor Margaret Talev writes:

  • There's a massive gulf between how Republicans and Democrats view race — a 66-point gap on whether the U.S. must continue making changes to give Black Americans equal rights to white Americans. 
  • There's a 48-point gap on whether the events of the past year led to a realization there's still a lot of racism in the U.S. — and a 49-point gap on whether the protests were good for society.

Of all demographic groups, white people were the most resistant to structural reforms to address institutional racism — a gap driven by Republican sentiment.

  • Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs says the GOP focus on race looks counterproductive at first, since a majority of Americans favor continued efforts to equalize the playing field for Black Americans.
  • But the pollster said a closer look reveals that the GOP's focus is more strategic — around specific ideas that drive culture wars and could potentially move swing voters.

Here's where the GOP sees an opening: In our poll, just one in five white independents supports the "defund the police" movement.

  • Half of white independents say the media exaggerates stories of police brutality and racism.
  • Two in five white independents say social policies, including affirmative action, discriminate unfairly against white people.
  • Those issues prime this slice of the electorate for messaging that paints Democrats as extreme on issues around race.

Between the lines: Republicans have at times played on racial fears for decades. It became more explicit in the Trump era.

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