STUDY: Researchers falsely frame Trump supporters as racists
- A Columbia University sociologist recently published a study showing that much of the academic research into President Trump’s voters is marred by prejudicial designs, distorted data, and outright misrepresentations.
- Musa al-Gharbi points out, for instance, that one data set used in a Washington Post article to accuse Trump voters of racist motivations actually shows that Trump voters were less racist than those who voted for Mitt Romney.
A new study finds that much of the research conducted on President Trump’s voters is marred by prejudicial designs, distorted data, and outright misrepresentation of Trump’s words.
Led by Musa al-Gharbi, a Columbia University sociologist, “On Social Research in the Age of Trump” analyzes three case studies of academic research on Trump to illustrate the various ways that academics have misrepresented the president and his voter base to the public.
One example of this phenomena can be seen in the April 2017 Washington Post article “Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism,” by Thomas Wood, who teaches political science classes at Ohio State University.
While Wood cites survey data to claim that Trump voters were especially motivated by racism, a closer analysis by al-Gharbi reveals that Wood’s arguments about Trump voters can’t be substantiated from the data cited in the article.
“According to Wood’s own data, whites who voted for Trump are perhaps less racist than those who voted for Romney,” al-Gharbi explains, adding that “not only were they less authoritarian than Romney voters, but less racist too!”
“Unfortunately, Wood declined to consider how Trump voters differed from Romney voters…instead focusing on the gap between Democrats and Republicans in 2016, in the service of a conclusion his data do not support,” he adds.
This uncharitable misrepresentation of data is one of many ways that Trump voters are marred by researchers, al-Gharbi says, asserting that the “evidence suggests that the role of race has been widely overblown and misunderstood with respect to Trump’s victory.”
In an interview with Campus Reform, al-Gharbi admitted that he was motivated to research this topic “in part to help Trump's opposition do better next round.”
“But I also take umbrage at the villainization of Trump supporters,” he added, noting that he “grew up in a conservative, religious, military community in Arizona along the United States and Mexico Border.”
“Trump voters aren't some mysterious exotic demonic force for me. They are my family, childhood friends, former co-workers, etc,” he said. “Given this background, I strongly suspected that the cartoonish version of these voters [promulgated by academics in the media] was likely not going to be well-supported by any kind of more even-handed analysis of the available data.”
Still, while al-Gharbi has found that many scholars misrepresent Trump’s voter base, he doesn’t ascribe malice to their intentions. Instead, he worries that even academics who strive to be impartial can fall into a “confirmation bias” trap, unintentionally allowing their personal biases to influence research results, oftentimes without realizing it.
To fix this “very widespread” issue, al-Gharbi suggests that research on politically divisive issues could be fact-checked by an editor with an opposing viewpoint. Unfortunately, these types of checks and balances are extremely rare in academia, he says.
“Basically everyone in these institutions hates the president and are willing—eager even—to believe the worst about his supporters,” he maintained.
Musa al-Gharbi’s research was published in the latest issue of The American Sociologist, a peer-reviewed journal that also recently published an article revealing that only two percent of sociology professors self-identify as conservative.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen