Sheri Berman in The Guardian:
Over a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, commentators are still trying to understand the election and the explosion of intolerance following it. One common view is that Trump’s victory was a consequence of pervasive racism in American society.
Studies make clear, however, that racism has been decreasing over time, among Republicans and Democrats. (Views of immigration have also grown more favorable.) Moreover, since racism is deep-seated and longstanding, reference to it alone makes it difficult to understand the election of Barack Obama and Trump, the differences between Trump and the two previous Republican nominees on race and immigration, and the dramatic breakdown of social norms and civility following the elections. (Social scientists call this the “constant can’t explain a variable” problem.)
This does not mean racism is irrelevant; it matters, but social science suggests it does in more complicated ways than much commentary suggests.
Perhaps because straightforward bigotry has declined precipitously while more subtle, complex resentments remain, understanding how intolerance shapes politics requires examining not just beliefs, but also the relationship between beliefs and the environments people find themselves in. This distinction has important implications for how we interpret and address contemporary social and political problems.