White Anxiety, and a President Ready to Address It

Mr. Trump, in turn, has made more explicit that he leads the party defending white status. What’s most curious isn’t how voters have reacted to that, said Daniel Hopkins, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, but that Republican Party elites and commentators have so swiftly shifted their rhetoric on racial and ethnic diversity, too.

“To me, the mystery is the speed with which what seemed to be a set of well-established norms crumbled,” Mr. Hopkins said. “How do you go from a Republican Party after 2012, which was very actively talking about courting Latino voters, to a Republican Party in 2016, which was doubling down on appeals to white voters?”

In this environment, polls show that a substantial number of white voters believe they face discrimination. They appear to be concerned that employers and schools may give preference to nonwhite candidates.

They don’t understand why cultural norms encourage nonwhite racial groups, but not white people, to openly identify with and celebrate their race. They might even resent that there’s no “white history” month, something that 29 percent of whites say they support.

To the extent that these views make some white voters angry, that reaction is a potent force in politics.

“Much of the research on the role of emotions in politics points to anger as a particularly effective emotion in getting people off the sidelines and onto the political playing field,” said Davin Phoenix, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine.

And anger is more effectively leveraged among white voters than other groups, he argues, pointing to the cultural stigma in America against public expressions of anger by African-Americans and other minorities, and even by the first black president. Mr. Trump’s claim that four minority congresswomen should leave America rather than critique it is in effect a version of that idea, too.