This is explored in a new research paper by Clemson poli-sci prof, Steven Miller (not that Steven Miller), and Texas A&M research scientist, Nicholas Davis. It's a fascinating paper and, at 22 pages, is not a burdensome read.
The authors were interviewed for Salon.com in a piece entitled, "Are white people ready to bail on democracy? These researchers say the danger is real."
Trump's electoral win was the end result of a concerted effort to prime opposition to Obama and his policies through a racial filter that ultimately paid off for Republicans in a fairly short turnaround. They had to go four years without a House majority and eight years without control of the Senate or White House to get united government again.
I have conducted other research which shows that racial resentment may have had a stronger effect on Democrats than Republicans. In other words, Republicans who scored the lowest on racial resentment still voted for Trump, while Obama voters and registered Democrats who scored the highest started to break for Trump.
Why America's media flinched.
To be clear: Not all Trump voters are racist or xenophobic. However, Trump's racism and xenophobia were not enough to dissuade them from voting for him, and even bringing that up is going to alienate potential subscribers, readers and viewers.
It's easy to mollycoddle some of the more corrosive aspects of Trump's voting bloc by misdiagnosing the root of their behavior because the alternative would hit the corporate news media in the pocketbook.
We leverage three questions widely used in the World Values Survey on attitudes toward democracy that ask whether a particular form of government would be a good way of running the country. The prompts include 1) having a strong leader who does not have to bother with the legislature or regular elections, 2) having the army rule the government, or 3) having a democratic political system. The respondent can say if these are very good, good, bad or very bad ways of running their country. We code responses of "very good" and "good" on the first two as an anti-democratic sentiment and code the "bad" and "very bad" responses in the third item as an opposition to democracy.
... factors like relative status, the context of inter-group relations and other psychological forces shape prejudices to follow.
In the case of the United States, this would be the demographic shifts that will make the country a "minority-majority" country in the intermediate future, along with the election of the first black president. This constitutes a sense of threat to white Americans with a sufficiently high attachment to their white identity and who also fear what this change in relative status will do to their material well-being.
This leads to a negative evaluation of democracy because democracy, by design, empowers the minority with the same opportunity of access to politics and power as the majority, even if the governance that follows is still some form of majority decision-making. Democracy is a compromise that empowers the minority beyond its actual numerical endowment. For the subset of white Americans we describe, democracy ultimately empowers their source of perceived threat.
This leads them to abandon "the false dreams of equality and democracy" -- borrowing that expression from noted white supremacist Richard Spencer -- and makes them more open to autocratic alternatives for the country if it would lock in the relative status of whites over nonwhites in the United States.
The global drift to authoritarianism.
Trump successfully launched a minority-scapegoating campaign to win the White House. Marine Le Pen's National Front made it to the presidential runoff in France. The Tories [the British Conservative Party] and UKIP had a symbiotic relationship in which UKIP was able to coerce an in-or-out referendum on the EU from [former Prime Minister] David Cameron, resulting in a successful Brexit campaign animated largely by concerns over immigration. The AfD in Germany [a far-right party] is barely five years old and now has 13 percent of the seats in the Bundestag. Italy's populist parties just got the OK to form a government.
These movements share a similar theme. They have outsized views of past glory and target immigrants as responsible for real or perceived downturns in national status. They're targeting the same international governmental organizations and supranational institutions responsible for post-World War II peace and prosperity, to the extent that they coincide with perceived loss of status and increases in immigration.
The American case strikes me as anomalous for two reasons. One, the immigration aspect in American populism is recent, at least as a Republican priority. Previous presidents have dog-whistled on the threatening presence of racial out-groups -- Nixon's "law and order" and the "Southern strategy," Reagan's "young bucks" and "welfare queens," George H.W. Bush's Willie Horton ad -- and I'd remiss if I didn't bring up Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" proposal because it's easy to forget how draconian that message was
...Second, and most curious: Other right-wing populist parties are trying to bundle anti-immigration measures with greater investments in social spending and welfare.
... Republicans in America kind of stand out by trafficking in the same anti-immigration hysteria while also proposing policies to dismantle social spending and the welfare state. These are incidentally policies that disproportionately benefit rural white Americans. Indeed, most Republican voters hate their party’s fiscal policies but will vote for them anyway when bundled with the white identity politics the Republican Party has been offering for the past few decades.
The collapse of the "Common Good."
Citizens don’t pay attention to politics. They possess unconstrained policy preferences that only weakly approximate “ideology,” and they fail to think probabilistically and, by extension, rationally.
When coupled with the raw fact that social and political identities drive behavior, it seems highly unlikely that our current set of electoral and political institutions are well-suited to produce anything that approximates “the common good.”Davis:
It is hard to divorce the concept of American exceptionalism from Herrenvolk democracy, so I think it [is] good to consider them together. The colonies prospered as a direct function of chattel slavery, and beyond the brutality of the antebellum South, we know that legacy has a great many economic and social ramifications today. The “settlement” of the western United States was made possible by a brutal combination of the displacement of native peoples and immigrant laborers cutting paths for railroad barons. The agricultural industry, the “backbone” of the American economy, would likely collapse without migrant labor.
When the average citizen thinks about the sustainability of American democracy, they do not grapple with the country’s historical exploitation of nonwhites. It’s why many whites balk at the term “privilege.” It undercuts the very individualism that weaves the strands of the mythos of American exceptionalism together.
The dysfunctional nature and strength of democracy in America.
In some real sense, democracy’s practical expression in the United States works as intended, insofar as it provides a veneer of popular inputs while isolating power among the wealthy. That is, quite literally, the story of the founding. If democracy is “in crisis,” then I think it’s a crisis of prevailing institutions being ill-suited to quietly maintain the status quo.
The question you’ve posed is this: Will democracy persist when it runs headlong into demographic changes that make it improbable that a party can win by solely relying on the sort of aggrieved white voters who elected Donald Trump to the White House? I don’t know. Probably, yes. Americans don’t really have a good grasp on the terror and pain involved in actual regime change. The burgeoning “crisis-of-democracy” literature may oversell the problem but only in the sense that the “problem” seems to be that the Trump administration has simply removed the veneer and revealed that American democracy, by design, is sincerely dysfunctional.