Trump’s “Silent Majority” Makes Loud Ugly Noises Online

Angry faces clash on Hanbury Street Photo credit: Alex / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Early in September, Shaquandra Ratliff was killed in Chicago. The young mother was shot when a fight broke out at a “death remembrance party” for a gang member slain a year ago. But police say Ratliff had no gang affiliation and simply was at the wrong place at the wrong time. In other words, this is a story about yet another innocent black person shot to death.

A report on the killing was posted on Yahoo! News, the most popular news site in the United States. Yahoo! News allows people to comment on articles and/or to vote on comments. A total of 340 comments were made in response to this story. This is one of them:

“Disputes among the imported african farm equipment is often concluded with someone

bleeding to death on the ground. This typically indicates that the aggressive negotiations have

ended. They have traded rocks and spears for modern civilization’s 9mm.”

This particular comment received 60 “Up” votes and 5 “Down” votes. That means for every person who felt strong enough to give this comment a thumbs down, 12 others thought that referring to African- Americans as “farm equipment” was just the kind of thing they should approve of.

The Silent Majority

There is a lot of debate among political analysts on why exactly Donald Trump is leading the Republican presidential field. Instead of overthinking it, they should simply listen to the billionaire himself, who claims to be the leader of a new “silent majority” of Americans.

So who are these people and why is Trump so popular among them? A look at the polls will give the answer.

The website Real Clear Politics has a list of every national poll taken this election cycle. Prior to officially announcing that he was running for president, Trump never topped 5% and, in the last poll taken before he got in the race, his support had dropped to 2%. While the billionaire and TV star had the name recognition needed to do well in early polls, he clearly had not excited the Republican base.

The Moment That Changed the GOP Race

That all changed when he declared his candidacy and railed against immigrants.

“[Mexico is] sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us,” Trump said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

It was by far the most reported part of his speech, and the Republican base paid attention. In the first poll conducted after Trump entered the race, his support had more than quintupled, propelling him to second place in the polls. Two weeks later, after doubling down on his anti-immigrant rhetoric, Trump was in first place, and he has not relinquished the lead since then.

Bigotry in Polls

It is difficult to identify outright bigotry in surveys. Nobody is going to admit to a pollster that he is a racist. However, the anonymity of the Internet allows people to show their true selves, and that is why I analyzed comments on articles that appeared on Yahoo! News that were related to race, religion, and immigration.

The site was chosen not only because it is the most popular online news source but also because it is a non-partisan news aggregation site. I also chose articles with a lot of feedback in order to work with a large sample size of comments.

Immigration

A Reuters story about a Trump meeting with family members of people allegedly killed by of undocumented immigrants was published on July 11. The article quotes Jerry Guardado, a protester at the event, who said he wanted to let the billionaire know that immigrants “are not criminals and that we are hard-working people.”

One of the most popular comments on the Reuters report in part responded to what Guardado said:

“You, Mr. Guardado and all the other illegals in this country are parasites and we need to    eliminate all of you from our country and we are finally moving in that direction.”

That comment received 253 Up votes and 9 Down votes.

Another Reuters article, on how immigration from Mexico is actually down, drew the following popular response, which got 108 Up votes and 9 Down votes:

“This article is BULL! These felons are still pouring over the border like cockroaches after maple syrup.”

Ferguson

While immigration stories often draw a strong response from commenters, that reaction pales in comparison to the reaction prompted by stories on race relations.

An Associated Press story on protests in Ferguson, MO, around the time of the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, drew well over 4,000 comments. Here is one of them:

“The problem is the fact that they are celebrating a street thugs death. He was killed because he       provoked the incident. Then they illegally demonstrate. Then to top it off two gangs have a

shootout. Then some resident makes reference that he can go to war in another country but he

can’t go to war in his own streets. Now that is the warped mentality of some of the people who

create most of the problems. Build a wall around Ferguson, remove all white people as well as

the black people who want to do what is right and let the ones who want to stay fend for

themselves. I am sick of their attitudes.”

This rant got 1,500 Up votes and 21 Down votes, a ratio of over 70 to 1.

An Associated Press article on a Justice Department report that found racial bias in Ferguson, and which has been covered by WhoWhatWhy, drew over 10,000 comments. The following got 1,000 Up votes and 168 Down votes:

“you are NOT victims anymore

you are the bad guys now

you have your hand out for more free loot

you won’t take responsibility for yourself

you have a 74% illegitimacy rate

you are 13% of the population but you commit 60% of the crime

you produce nothing

you contribute nothing

you take and just want more

you don’t think the laws should apply to you

you blame others for your own decisions

you don’t try in school

you don’t try at work

you have no concept of personal responsibility

you dont see the direct connection between your own decisions and the impact on your quality        of life

you can’t imagine how hard it is to make it in the world, because you never try

you think you can have quality of life without earning it

you don’t raise your children with any morality

you celebrate violence and misogyny

you think you are owed something, when you’re not

At this point you are not victims of the bad guys,

you ARE the bad guys.”

Articles on race often draw thousands of comments, whose tenor generally matches these examples.

For example, an Associated Press story on the family of Freddie Gray settling with the city of Baltimore for $6.4 million drew over 10,000 comments, of which this was among the most popular ones (800 Up, 51 Down):

“The kid wasn’t worth two cents but his family has no problem using his dead body to get rich. I’d

be willing to bet it all be gone in six months.”

Muslims

Donald Trump is not the only Republican candidate tapping into this vein of anger. Ben Carson, who is currently running second to Trump among GOP primary candidates, was widely criticized for saying that he “absolutely would not agree” with putting a Muslim in the White House.

That condemnation, however, is not reflected in online comments. An Associated Press article on the issue drew over 20,000 comments in less than a week. The one with the most Up votes (1,300 as opposed to 546 Down votes) was this one:

“Well we have different views. Muslims sould [sic] not be president in a Christain [sic] Nation. I didn’t vote for Obama for that reason. If you see something call it as it is. A cat is a cat. OBAMA is muslim .”

What It All Means

This analysis is not meant to indicate that the sentiments expressed and the support they received are representative of the US as a whole.

What’s clear, however, is that a large number of Americans feel so strongly about certain issues that they are moved to express their views in public forums or to vote their approval of such views — something only a tiny minority of readers usually do.

For whatever reason, a not insignificant portion of the US electorate feels that illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans and that a lot of them are criminals. They see the mainstream media’s wall-to-wall coverage of white cops shooting African-Americans but feel that not enough is being done to cover black-on-black crime. And they are afraid of terrorists and believe that violent Islam is the biggest threat to the security of the United States. They are part of a long American tradition of alarm about the “other.”

These are the sentiments Trump and Carson are stirring up and benefiting from.

The billionaire’s promise to “Make America Great Again” resonates with the mostly white Republican base that sees the demographics of the country shifting. Clearly threatened by these changes, this segment of the population wants the US to return to a time when whites constituted an absolute majority, who could do as they pleased.

Some comments even show a degree of demographic self-awareness, as, for example, in this response to the shooting of Shaquandra Ratliff, the young mother killed in Chicago:

“Yes, these comments sound completely insensitive, racists [sic] and hateful. But they are really just backlash by whites for constantly being hatefully blamed for everything that is wrong with large parts of the black community that is failing miserably to better themselves.”

Needless to say, this comment received 10 Up votes for every Down vote.

If members of this demographic confine their frustration, fear, or rage to expressions of disdain for minorities online and to voting for Trump or Carson in the GOP primary, the real effect of their anger will be relatively small. However, there is a chance that a volatile mix is being created as these candidates, together with the conservative media outlets backing them, keep stirring the pot. At some point, if this demographic continues to feel as though they (and their concerns) are not being taken seriously, this stew of frustration and anger could increasingly spill over from Internet forums into the real world.

Related front page panorama photo credit: The problem is the fact (Yahoo News / Comment), You, Mr. Guardado (Yahoo News / Comment), Well we have different views (Yahoo News / Comment)

Where else do you see journalism of this quality and value?

Please help us do more. Make a tax-deductible contribution now.

Our Comment Policy

Keep it civilized, keep it relevant, keep it clear, keep it short. Please do not post links or promotional material. We reserve the right to edit and to delete comments where necessary.

print

0 responses to “Trump’s “Silent Majority” Makes Loud Ugly Noises Online”

  1. Title

    […]always a massive fan of linking to bloggers that I appreciate but don’t get a whole lot of link really like from[…]

  2. Derek Spisak says:

    This article should be re investigated with the new information that the Trump campaign planted the comments on social media as part of an astro-turf campaign.

    Google Trump Project Alamo or Trump Troll Army.

    Trump campaign spent $150 million to incite people to anger on social media. He is responsible directly.

    Trolling social media to intimidate and change public opinion or worse suppress people from voting is the exact same tactic as wearing a mask to smash windows and steal things in the street. This is why the new admin has no mandate.

  3. Chris Palmer says:

    Conservatives & Republicans have always used this “fear of (fill in the blank)” strategy. Blacks & “commies” have been the gold standard. Then add birth control, abortion, gays. Now “illegals”, “terrorists” & Muslims are on the long list. Why is it religious people are the most fearful of dying? Why such “fear”??

  4. Tabludama says:

    The glaring leftist double standard on race is the Elephant in the Living Room that intellectually honest people have no trouble seeing. Only liberals with their Dogma Block cant see it. The truth, facts, and logic are all “racist” to liberals.The Elephant in the Living room doesnt exist. Their dogma tells them so.

  5. mmercier0921 says:

    and we should be nice as the left trys to destroy the country.

    suck it up buttercup.

  6. PhillyFreedom says:

    I think the author is pointing to the tail and claiming it is wagging the dog when he says it is Trump, Carson, and conservative media causing these reactions.
    “However, there is a chance that a volatile mix is being created as these candidates, together with the conservative media outlets backing them, keep stirring the pot. At some point, if this demographic continues to feel as though they (and their concerns) are not being taken seriously, this stew of frustration and anger could increasingly spill over from Internet forums into the real world.”
    This demographic does feel as though they are being ignored. It started during Bush’s term when bailouts were given to Wall Street, GM, and other large too-big-to-fails all while this demographic was thrown under the bus and ignored with a record number of foreclosures. Obama could be called President More Bush as he continued the bailouts, continued the wars that were a mistake…and even started a few more wars.
    This “new reaction” is not caused by Trump or Carson or Fiorina. They are getting attention because of frustration with the federal government and the elite establishment that continue to push everyone else. They have pushed the American people and now the pushback against the establishment is becoming more and more visible.
    Let me sum up: after being burned by the establishment year after year and election after election, only the non-establishment candidates are gaining any traction. They are the tail. The American people are the dog wagging them. And also hoping that change will finally come with every dog getting his day.

  7. CriminalsHeartGunControl says:

    Evidently you’ve never perused the bilge at Democrat Underground.

  8. PhillyFreedom says:

    I think too much importance is being assigned to the up vote/down vote ratio in this article. People tend to up vote at a much higher rate than down voting.Many sites don’t have the option for down voting, e.g. Facebook. Many people aren’t used to having the option to down vote a comment. So instead of noticing the opportunity to down vote a comment when it is available, they will NOT up vote and consider that the equivalent of expressing their disdain. Therefore, down votes should be given greater weight that up votes. I don’t know what that value should be, 10:1, 20:1, 100:1, but certainly NOT 1:1.

    Comparing up votes to down votes with equal weighing is not only an example of NON-scientific surveying, it is just plain wrong.

    • johndissed says:

      I would hope that Americans would stand up for each other and down-vote such clear cases of immorality and cruelty. All it takes is a click. These people should be shamed out of comments sections. But perhaps those with the most hate tend to create accounts on these sites to spread it around anonymously since they can’t do so at work or in most social situations. And those without it might tend to not take the time to create accounts as the need to give their opinions isn’t as urgent for them. But the closet racists I know are Trump fans. They love him. He’s made it socially acceptable for them to express their pent-up hate. Just like calling Obama a “Muslim” instead of what they call him behind closed doors is PC. The “N word” is now an “M word.”

    • Klaus Marre says:

      When you click on this link: http://news.yahoo.com/ferguson-officials-meet-justice-department-154023706.html you will see that the Up and Down vote buttons right next to each other, meaning that your “not noticing the Down button” argument doesn’t hold water.
      You will also see that the comment with the most (as well as third most) replies each have 1,000 Down votes. In fact, the Up/Down ratio of the first comment is almost exactly inverse to the example mentioned here, so your main argument does not stand up to scrutiny.

    • PhillyFreedom says:

      See my response to Comments Editor posted 2 hours before this reply.

      As for your point refuting my “not noticing the Down button,” just because some people found and used the Down button doesn’t mean that everyone or even that a majority of readers noticed them.

      While 1,000 is a lot of down votes, it is small in comparison to the number of readers of this article. There are over 10,000 comments. If everyone who reads this commented only once, that would be 10,000 readers.

      However, I will grant you that the 10,000 comments are not all from unique readers. Some readers commented more than once, for sure. But in order for your 1,000 down votes to equal a majority of the commenters, the average number of comments posted per commenter would have to be 5. This would result in 2,000 unique commenters and give your 1,000 down voters a virtual majority.

      ON THE OTHER HAND, will you agree that those that comment are a minority of the total number of readers of any highly read article, including this one?

      Even the article’s author admits that comment voting is “something only a tiny minority of readers usually do.”

      If so, then we agree that your 1,000 down voters is certainly not a majority of the readers. Going on, we have already determined that your 1,000 down voters is hardly like to even be a majority of the readership subset that are also commenters.

      So perhaps you can concede that somenumber of people may have overlooked the down vote button? If yes, my original point doeshold water, quite a bit.

      OR…if NO ONE overlooked the down vote button, will you concede that people are less likely to down vote versus up vote versus not voting at all?

      And…if you don’t concede either of those, then perhaps the article’s author’s conclusion or implied conclusion that we live in a society that is becoming messed up (my words, not his).

    • Comments editor says:

      The author was clear about the reasons for his choice of the news site from which he drew his data: the site is very widely-read, non-partisan, and has lots of reader feedback with both the upvote and downvote options.

      Your assertions about statistics look rather general – what is the basis for your claim that readers will refrain from upvoting rather than making a downvote on a site that offers both options ?

      How have you determined that a choice to abstain from voicing an up/down opinion is actually an expression of either of those opinions ? A reader may well hold an article in disdain, but abstention from voting does not express this.

    • PhillyFreedom says:

      Well, you got me; I had no statistics…only a gut feeling. So…I looked (googled) and found this research that considered 140 million votes over a year and a half on 4 large websites. http://www-cs-faculty.stanford.edu/people/jure/pubs/disqus-icwsm14.pdf

      I noticed that their labelling of a post as “negative” still averaged more up votes than down votes.(I’m not going to footnote this comment, but you can see page 3 of the above referenced for the source of this point.)

      This supports my gut feeling: up votes are more plentiful than down votes. Further, this means that cannot be weighed as equal.

    • Comments editor says:

      An interesting paper, thankyou. Having read it however, I don’t believe that it supports your point – though I do recognise that it is not a simple matter.

      In the Stanford study, the measure of the overall feedback was designed in terms of proportion, (of up-votes) not absolute numbers. Indeed the votes were perceived in these terms. (See Figure 1)

      As the author of the ‘Silent Majority’ article does note the proportion of up-votes to down-votes for three of the examples cited, it would not be justified to state that he assumes that which you claim he does.

      That said, I share your general take that ‘giving bad actors negative feedback such as down votes fans the flames, resulting in more of the bad behavior the down voter is seeking to constrain.’ – you put it very well.

    • PhillyFreedom says:

      I’m not disputing the sites were well-read, etc. I’m disputing the conclusions he has drawn regarding the readers support or disapproval are based on an underlying assumption that 1 up vote is canceled out by 1 down vote or vice versa. I contend that this is not the case. 1 down vote cancels out more than 1 up vote. How many more depends on many factors such as the site, the community, the context of the comment, and on and on.
      As for statistics, I found some to back up my point. http://www-cs-faculty.stanford

      My take on the Stanford conclusion is that giving bad actors negative feedback such as down votes fans the flames, resulting in more of the bad behavior the down voter is seeking to constrain.
      The better action (instead of down voting), arguably taken by many readers of the Ferguson article – is if you can’t up vote a comment, don’t vote at all. Down voting, according to Stanford, just encourages the behavior you would be indicating you didn’t like.