That Didn’t Take Long

Although I just published my thoughts on what Dr. Ben Carson’s confirmation hearings might tell us about his leadership of HUD, it’s become clear that what Carson himself might like to do will be of relatively little consequence.

Republican Congressman Paul Gosar of Arizona introduced a bill with the Orwellian title “Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act.” As one might guess, the local zoning decisions being protected are not those about density, or mixed-use development, or lot setbacks. The decisions in question are those local zoning decisions that operate in an exclusionary manner to prevent poor or minority Americans from living in a particular local jurisdiction. These are common and often horrifyingly inventive, but were effectively challenged by a lawsuit against the state of Texas and a number of Texas cities that was upheld by a narrow (and cautiously argued) Supreme Court decision rendered when the court had nine members. The decision also coincided with the Obama administration’s invocation of the original language of legislation creating HUD to set agency rules requiring HUD and cooperating local jurisdictions to “Affirmatively Further Fair Housing.” When it is inevitably passed on party lines and signed into law by President Trump, that rule will be nullified.

Just in case the intent of the bill wasn’t clear, a separate section declares

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no Federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.

There’s no way of solving a problem quite like making it impossible to measure. As we all know, under the Big Data revolution, if something isn’t quantified, like racism, it doesn’t really exist. The only thing better than “alternative facts” are no facts at all.

UPDATE Watch out, American Community Survey.


On Dr. Carson’s Confirmation Hearings

Last Thursday’s hearing on Dr. Ben Carson’s nomination as the secretary of Housing and Urban Development was noteworthy for several reasons.

Perhaps foremost, the question of Dr. Carson’s qualifications to serve in that post were almost completely ignored. Although a letter delivered to the chair of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs included the signatures of a raft of prominent, and some eminent, urban studies scholars (historians, sociologists, political scientists, demographers, and anthropologists all strongly represented), and challenged Carson’s qualifications to oversee an agency of HUD’s scope without administrative experience or expertise in either housing or urban development, the issue was virtually ignored in the committee’s deliberations. Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) joked that if Carson could handle brain surgery, running HUD would logically be easy. Carson pledged a “listening tour” and to unleash the power of private enterprise to solve housing and development problems. This will be a neat trick in a housing market where, as Jason DeParle notes,

The big problem is that it costs more to build even modest housing than millions of households can pay, whether the builder is greedy or not. That’s partly because restrictive zoning and overzealous building codes drive up the price. But it’s mostly because of the inherent cost of the basics: land, interest, materials, utilities. As a rule of thumb nationwide, even an efficient nonprofit developer can’t build an apartment affordable to a household making less than about $32,000 a year. That leaves out nearly a third of American households.

Carson, true to form, offered few specifics about his policy goals, suggesting primarily that if people earned more money they would no longer need HUD support to afford housing. While such a statement is true by virtue of its tautological nature, Carson’s focus on increasing wages and earning is notable for contradicting most of Carson’s declared policy positions. He’s spoken against raising the minimum wage, declared that social welfare payments create “dependency,” and suggested that the free market will raise wages if millions of low-wage workers simply make themselves more valuable to capitalism. It’s also striking that Carson’s attention to contributing factors to poverty varied in inverse proportion to HUD’s mandate to act on them. Indeed, while Carson seemed to recognize the interconnections between housing policy and other social problems, as Kriston Capps argues at Citylab, he seemed to have no particular ideas about what HUD might do about them, particularly given his opposition to HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which is central to housing desegregation and helping low-income and minority Americans live in areas with greater social resources and educational opportunities, as I’ve written here before (and Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, and Lawrence Katz demonstrate here).

Specific questions raised by Catherine Cortez Masto and Sherrod Brown about HUD’s role in preventing a new foreclosure crisis and in serving the one in four renters who pay more than half of their income for housing were brushed aside without concern proposed action.

Things got a bit more entertaining when Elizabeth Warren pressed Carson on his ability and inclination to regulate potential conflicts of interest between HUD policy and government officials in an administration flush with real estate developers. Such concerns would apply of course to the Trump Organization’s widespread, and largely undisclosed, real estate holdings, which will remain under the control of Trump’s sons in a conflict resolution scheme that strains credulity, and to the extensive investments (pending divestment) of Jared Kushner in low-income housing. It’s only fair to state that as yet there is no evidence of a direct conflict of interest. Yet Carson seemed to be wholly unaware of the potential for one.

Perhaps many people were shocked, given the attention to Trump’s potential self-dealing through the presidency, that Carson wouldn’t make this pledge. But I think that the exchange was revealing in ways that neither participant likely intended. First, Carson suggested that he would not block a program that would benefit the public if particular individuals would make “ten dollars.” Warren reminded Carson that the more likely order of magnitude of such gains would be in the tens of millions. Carson seemed to have no idea what’s at stake in the agency that he’s being tagged to run. However, Warren’s focus on Trump’s potential to engage in self-dealing through HUD, while politically salient to the legitimacy of a President-Elect who has given no indication of grasping a distinction between the national interest and his own, also reveals a troubling acceptance of a status quo at HUD where the agency’s nominal mission of ensuring adequate housing on a non-discriminatory basis has been subordinated to the distribution of financial benefits to highly capitalized and politically connected developers. Indeed, the problem of corruption is intimately connected to deep historical shifts in HUD’s mission and political status that Jake Blumgart describes in n+1.

There’s been a dialectical relationship between HUD’s emergent capture by development interests and corruption, which has had the consequence of crippling the agency’s capacity to provide housing. As Jason DeParle writes, the period 1970-1990 saw a one million unit surplus of affordable housing relative to poor families change to a five million unit deficit. As urban historian Thomas Sugrue writes, the political weakness of HUD’s housing provision and desegregation missions left plenty of space for graft:

In the early 1970s, its program to expand Federal Housing Administration-backed mortgages to underserved urban areas was hijacked by real estate speculators and politically connected developers, who sold shabby houses to desperate buyers at above-market prices, backed by inflated appraisals. When buyers defaulted on their mortgages (especially as interest rates spiked), taxpayers covered the loss. HUD was unwilling to come down hard on predatory lenders or to stiffen regulations.

Pierce was the perfect agent for Reagan’s mission to gut HUD. He oversaw dramatic cuts in the agency’s already meager budget. Federal support for low-income-housing subsidies plunged from $26 billion to $8 billion. More than that, Pierce undercut HUD’s civil rights mission: Housing was nearly as segregated at the end of the 1980s as it had been at the decade’s start. Urban housing conditions deteriorated, the construction of affordable housing slowed to a trickle, and urban poverty deepened.

HUD, however, still channeled money to private housing developers and contractors. And under Pierce, the vultures circled…. Pierce’s staff turned over with alarming frequency. Seven assistant secretaries for housing came and went, and the agency became a patronage mill for inexperienced Republican hacks.

In the current climate of austerity, where HUD, like other agencies, doesn’t spend funds so much as administer tax incentives in the hopes of encouraging someone to provide housing for lower-income households, the prior problem of graft has largely been replaced by the capital barriers of entry to the large-scale development game. In 2012, an industry journal for rental housing operators described how Jared Kushner was able to develop a multifamily rental housing empire by

stealthily target[ing] complex off-market mega-deals for properties that aren’t exactly jet-set destinations. The company aims for distress-ridden class-B apartment communities in second-tier cities such as Toledo and Baltimore…. That pair of strategic strikes has helped expand the diversified company’s rental housing portfolio by more than 11,000 units during the past year or so.

These deals often involve taking over and refinancing the debt of current landlords (not building more housing), and doing so before properties hit the open market. Although there is nothing to suggest that Kushner’s organization has behaved unethically or illegally in such deals, they are dependent upon a matrix of connection and access to credit:

old and new relationships with owners, investors, lenders, intermediaries and others help Kushner source off-market opportunities–and close quickly at favorable financing terms. Kushner is contractually prohibited from discussing details of the Baltimore portfolio investment, but confirms that this opportunity came to the team off-market via relationships.

Beyond operational and deal-sourcing capabilities, Kushner’s ties to deep-pocketed institutional capital managers help leverage its banking relationships.

That institutional backing and the financial “horsepower” it brings is critical in securing debt at the best rates and terms, observes Jordan Ray, managing director with Mission Capital Advisors, which arranges financing for investors and sells distressed debt on behalf of lenders. Hefty equity resources also allow these joint ventures to close value-add and opportunistic deals more quickly than lesser-heeled suitors–another key factor winning deals in today’s highly competitive environment, Ray adds.

The importance of business relationships, large-scale finance, and information to large-scale activity in the multifamily rental housing industry mean that HUD’s work must necessarily guard against conflicts of interest because being a player in that market requires companies to cultivate influence.

And it also means that HUD’s leadership will face potentially difficult conflicts between its mission of encouraging a sufficient supply of affordable housing and profit-oriented decisions by large investors as landlords. As Prashant Gopal recently wrote in Bloomberg,  private equity funds like Blackstone have moved aggressively to buy rental properties since the 2008 mortgage bust (to the tune of $25 billion and 150,000 single family houses), moving aggressively to the scene of the worst carnage of the foreclosure crisis.

Blackstone built its rental-home business with an advantage few if any other buyers could match: billions of dollars in credit from large banks. Its Invitation Homes subsidiary quickly became the largest single-family home landlord in the U.S., with 50,000 properties. Altogether, hedge funds, private-equity firms and real estate investment trusts have raised about $20 billion to purchase as many as 200,000 homes to rent. The buying — often by employees who brought stacks of certified checks to foreclosure auctions on courthouse steps — helped turned down-and-out markets such as Arizona, California, Florida and Georgia into booming ones as the firms outbid local investors and drained markets of foreclosures.

Blackstone also developed new securitization instruments for trading on the future of rental income:

Two years earlier, Blackstone had fueled its own vast purchases by pioneering a new kind of bond in which investors are paid out of rental streams — a variation on the mortgage-backed securities that made so much money for Wall Street before blowing up. Moody’s rated the biggest portion of Blackstone’s first bond AAA and the firm was able to borrow $479 million at 1.9 percent, less than half the typical 30-year mortgage rate.

When rental income is securitized, and when the collection of rents is moved from the family in the adjacent duplex unit to a Wall Street board room, the stakes change considerably. When Wall Street is America’s landlord, rents rise, and tenants who jeopardize revenue flows with delinquency swiftly find themselves on the streets, as Gopal writes in a different article:

On a chilly December afternoon in Atlanta, a judge told Reiton Allen that he had seven days to leave his house or the marshals would kick his belongings to the curb. In the packed courtroom, the truck driver, his beard flecked with gray, stood up, cast his eyes downward and clutched his black baseball cap.

The 44-year-old father of two had rented a single-family house from a company called HavenBrook Homes, which is controlled by one of the world’s biggest money managers, Pacific Investment Management Co. Here in Fulton County, Georgia, such large institutional investors are up to twice as likely to file eviction notices as smaller owners, according to a new Atlanta Federal Reserve study.

Among these investors?

Colony Starwood Homes initiated proceedings on a third of its properties, the most of any large real estate firm. Tom Barrack, chairman of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, and the company he founded, Colony Capital, are the largest shareholders of Colony Starwood, which declined to comment.

Indeed, it’s more the case than ever that the rental housing market that is so central to HUD’s core mission is constructed around the needs of investors rather than tenants. This connects to two theses of Harvard sociologist and MacArthur prize winner Matthew Desmond’s book Evicted (reviewed here by Jason DeParle): Evictions create dire impoverishment, and evictions happen because they are profitable.

In discussing his research, Desmond posed a framework for understanding housing as central to opportunity: to education, to earning potential, to family stability, to all of the factors Carson identified as more important contributors to poverty, as though to argue that HUD’s efforts to fight them would be futile. Per Desmond:

Do we believe housing is a right? Do we believe that access to decent, affordable housing is part of what it means to live in this country? I think we have to say yes. The reason is very simple: Without stable housing everything else falls apart. We’ve reaffirmed the right to basic education, access to food, and security in old age because we know that, without those things, it is impossible to live a full and flourishing life [ed.: wait a few months].

This concern was addressed in a 2014 letter to HUD from the National Consumer Law Center and other organizations, which warned that this pattern threatened to create a financial bubble while raising rents and crowding families out of a single-family home market increasingly dominated by highly capitalized rental property operators.

Senator Sherrod Brown pointedly recommended in his questioning that Carson and his staff read Evicted prior to taking office. Sherrod Brown nonetheless voted, as did Elizabeth Warren, to pass Carson’s nomination on the full senate. It’s a shame neither of them demanded a book report from Dr. Carson first.


UPDATE:  Since Dr. Carson’s committee hearings, the Trump administration released its preliminary budget proposal. Reports indicate the strong influence of the Heritage Foundation on the proposal, which strongly suggests that Carson will be taking over an agency with a substantially smaller overall budget, and a dramatically circumscribed sphere of action. HUD’s budget would be cut by $4.3 billion for 2017, from current levels of $38.8 billion, and nearly $293 billion over 10 years. The plan would end the Community Development Block Grant, devolve affordable housing programs to the states, reduce Federal expenditures for subsidized housing (which will be spent at the discretion of state governments anyway) by ten percent annually for ten years, and eliminate the Federal Housing Administration.

Affordable housing will be built or rehabbed to the extent that it’s profitable for large private developers or politically tenable in state legislatures.

The Trump budget outline also directs the Justice Department to reduce the use of disparate impact analysis, which would effectively end enforcement of the Fair Housing Act.

Buckle up.

FJM: Merrie Spaeth

A month ago I cashed in some airline miles that will never be sufficient to earn a flight on a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. So far as purchases made with otherwise valueless scrip, it’s been worthwhile. The news reporting, while filtered through the perspective of the .1%, is solid. The occasional interesting feature comes in on Saturday. And, every day, the editorial page offers a glimpse into the mindset of the American wingnut at the dawning of the age of Trump. The great educational value of reading the WSJ editorial pages is that they offer an object lesson in the fundamental fact that the barrel has no bottom to scrape where movement conservatism, reactionary populism, or revanchist oligarchy are concerned.

Today’s section offers a cheap attack on John Lewis’s congressional achievements from columnist Jason L.(the L is for “what’s John Lewis done for me LATELY?”) Riley, an editorial explaining that things will be better when industrial poultry farms dispose of their waste on the honor system, and Holman Jenkins, Jr.’s suggestion that the government ethics officials raising hue and cry about Donald Trump’s unresolved conflicts of interest are “aphids,” in which he makes a one-to-one comparison between the prospect of Trump’s children “parad[ing] around in semi-regal fashion, signing deals that wouldn’t otherwise come their way if their father wasn’t president?” and the marketing of Billy Beer.

This is a murderer’s row of cant, ideology, and willful ignorance, but these articles are tied for the silver medal behind Merrie Spaeth, who advises Republicans “How to Overcome the Tyranny of the Anecdote.” Although one might question how, exactly, anecdotes can exercise tyranny, and therefore disregard the article upon reading the headline, I, for some reason, read on. Since I did, you have to as well. So, without further ado, is an FJM.

While Republicans debate whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act outright or piecemeal, here are a few people they should meet: Paula, 52, a breast-cancer survivor; Namir, 35, with a rare tumor; Cameron, 44, who suffers from Parkinson’s; and Jason, 36, fighting a blood infection.

Wow, these people all have the kind of serious-and-expensive-but-unpredictable health conditions that constitute the very purpose of health insurance. Maybe their stories will support insight into the best policy decisions.

They all received lifesaving treatment through Obamacare; they, and others, will literally interpose their bodies in front of any attempt to reform or repeal it.

First off, that’s not what “literally” means, unless you are suggesting that Paula, Namir, Cameron, and Jason stage a sit-down strike in the halls of Congress to obstruct the coming reconciliation bill. Otherwise, they will “figuratively” or “symbolically” offer their bodily health as part of a rhetorical defense of the ACA. Second, I guess living is pretty important to these people! We’ll come back to that point in a bit.

It isn’t only health care. The cabinet nominees named by President-elect Trump have pledged to trim the thicket of regulations and executive actions that has accumulated during the past eight years. So get ready to meet a new cast of characters whose stories suggest that “making America great again” will result in dirty air, polluted water, starving children and general death and destruction–all the fault of heartless Republicans.

You forgot “fracking-related earthquakes.” And obviously the idea that people across America today suffer ill health and premature death from tainted drinking water is ridiculous. And no one is seeking to directly deprive poor households of funds to buy food. And, overriding clean air regulations couldn’t possibly harm people, who don’t need to breathe air constantly during every moment of their lives. These characters can really spin a yarn about environmental health and food, can’t they? What’s to be done? Consider the impacts of policy on human lives?

The Trump administration and the GOP have to be prepared for the communication strategy their opponents are already employing, with the media’s help: the bombardment of emotionally laden anecdotes.

People do have a strong emotional attachment to life and bodily health. I wonder why that’s such catnip to the media? It’s also truly unfortunate that only liberals and Democrats are successfully able to use this strategy of appeal to emotion through anecdote.

Already Republicans are making the same mistake they always do, which is to rest their case on impersonal facts and figures.

So, were these “Death Panel” astroturf town hall ambushes in 2009 “facts” or “figures“? And, oddly enough, the Congressional GOP has passed rules specifically excluding ACA repeal from requirements that the Congressional Budget Office analyze the 40-year spending impact of legislation. I guess they’re taking Merrie’s advice already and ditching those boring facts and figures. [Note: Politifact argues that the rules as adopted don’t bar the CBO from evaluating repeal, but, given that they require a 40-year horizon analysis for any legislation that might increase Federal spending by $5 billion at any time  during that period, the rule seems designed to bury spending bills in analysis while making the CBO too busy to do any non-required analysis on ACA].

Facts are the background noise of debate and analysis anecdotes are a message’s most powerful anchors. In the battle for public opinion, personal stories win. So what if Obamacare is woefully undersubscribed because it’s a bad deal for young, healthy people….

Oddly enough, Namir and Jason are both under 40 and before their respective tumor and blood infection, probably thought of themselves as healthy. One of the virtues of anecdotes is that they illustrate the way that actual human beings exist in society, and particularly the way that “young, healthy people” can become “young, sick people with very large medical expenses and urgent care needs” in short order.

or if millions have watched their deductibles skyrocket and choices narrow. Do you really want Paula, Namir, Cameron, and Jason to die?

Note: Spaeth is suggesting that you should prefer that these four people, and thousands like them, should die, to the prospect of higher insurance deductibles. I’d discuss the way that deductible increases are related to the ACA’s requirements that insurance companies actually pay claims and offer coverage, but perhaps that would be overly reliant on the old facts and figures. I’d also note that an uninsured person has a “deductible” of “infinity.”

A case study in the war between anecdotes and facts is the portrayal of black men shot by police officers.

Christ, these people can’t stop themselves, can they?

Individuals like Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald and Michael Brown have become icons, treated as if their stories are beyond debate.

When someone seeks to squelch controversy over police shootings, and selectively excludes cases like Walter Scott or Philando Castile, that’s a tell.

This is the emotion Hillary Clinton capitalized on when she accused police of “implicit bias,” a problem she claimed was “systemic.” President Obama used the international platform of a speech in Poland to note that blacks are arrested at twice the rate of whites.

If one wants to decry the use of anecdotes over “facts” then it’s an odd move to disregard a gigantic body of social science research–initiated at Harvard University no less–both qualitative and ethnographic and quantitative and experimental, suggesting that implicit bias is indeed systemic. Hell, take Nerdy Suge Knight’s word for it:

Now the facts:

Uh huh….

Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who has won a slew of honors for his research

Appeal to authority (Harvard social scientist version) is valid for some instances, but not others.

made news with a report, “An empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force.” He found that in Houston, America’s fourth-largest city, police were 23.8% less likely to shoot at blacks than at whites–a statistically insignificant [ed-I assume this is a typo where Spaeth meant “significant.” I’m charitable that way.] difference even Mr. Fryer called “surprising.”

Nitpicking here as a former academic: every researcher calls their findings “surprising” because that is academic code for “interesting” or “pay attention.” In Fryer’s case, it worked, because he instantly became the right wing’s favorite black social scientist as the likes of Rush Limbaugh reported “proof” that the cops aren’t racist.

Here’s the problem. Although Fryer has since been open about acknowledging the limits of his study and the gap between its most sensational coverage in the press and the policy conclusions that ought to be drawn from it, almost everyone, including Spaeth, is grossly misinterpreting the study, which, to be clear, was a working paper, rather than a peer-reviewed publication, and which has been criticized by other scholars, including those at Harvard.

The key is that the findings are based in a particular “universe” of individual incidents, in this case, Houston police encounters with racially identified persons. Although a higher proportion of encounters with white individuals escalated to shooting compared to encounters with black individuals, this tells us nothing about the likelihood of a random white or black Houstonian being contacted by police officers. A more reliable conclusion might be “black Houstonians are more likely to be pulled over for the slightest reason, while white Houstonians must need to be flagrantly breaking the law to make the acquaintance of a cop, which makes it more likely the encounter will escalate.” This is a problem with the universe of the data, that Fryer acknowledges. The Department of Justice’s report on Chicago’s police and the systematic abuse of civil rights by the CPD presents a decidedly different, and contextual, portrait of the relationship of race and police violence.

Honestly, I’ve had enough of Spaeth’s abuse of social science, so I’m going to skip ahead a bit.

The problem is that nobody cares about [statistics chosen selectively, almost like anecdotes] when you’ve got a tragic situation like that of Keith Lamont Scott, captured on cellphone video in Charlotte, North Carolina, while his wife yells that he suffers from a traumatic brain condition.

Watch the video if you have the stomach. Then ask yourself if you’re comforted by a statistical argument that police aren’t biased, and what about all the times police don’t shoot people?

What to do? Don’t assume these shootings are all justified, or that groups like Black Lives Matter should be dismissed for telling the stories. Some stories are true.

This feels like a head fake. Where’s the big “but?”

Instead of expressing regrets and retreating to statistics and studies,

Again, these being the noted redoubt of conservative politics. Carry on.

Republicans need to deploy anecdotes of their own. There were 762 homicides in Chicago last year, a 57% increase over 2015, and 3,550 shootings. Anecdotes put names and faces on these figures. Fifteen-year-old Javon Wilson, a grandson of Rep. Danny Davis, was fatally shot in an argument over a pair of shoes. Gang members allegedly shot and killed Nykea Aldridge, a 32 year-old cousin of basketball star Dwyane Wade, as she pushed a baby stroller.

Chicago. Javon. Nykea. Dwyane. Sneaker-related killings. Gang members. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention since Goldwater, this is using “anecdotes” to invoke “black on black crime” to “change the subject” on police violence. This is where I get off the train. I tried. There’s some stuff about job creators and how welfare reform really didn’t literally starve children. If you are a “facts” and “analysis” person you can read here for more. Or you can read an anecdote about welfare from Paul Ryan that’s both fabricated and plagiarized.

Oh, what’s this?

Ms. Spaeth, a Dallas communications consultant, was President Reagan’s director of media relations.

Hell, had they put the bio blurb at the beginning, we could have all saved some time. Reagan was never one to embroider an anecdote to influence public policy or exaggerate his role in historic events or pander to the insecurities of Americans for political gain.

FOLLOW-UP: Research on Racial Resentment and Approval of Social Policy

In my last post, I argued that understanding Tom Price’s likely actions as the Secretary of Health and Human Services requires understanding the fierce and racially fraught metropolitics of greater Atlanta, where tax and service politics of all sorts, but particularly those surrounding medical care for the region’s poor (who are much more likely than the whole population to be Black). The long and short of it is that the region’s wealthy homeowners (who are much more likely than the whole population to be white) have developed a consistent grievance politics around the premise that Fulton County’s social services under Black political leadership take from deserving white homeowners to give to the undeserving (implicitly Black) poor.

I’ve made this argument inductively from archival research on movements for suburban secession in Atlanta since the 1960s. With varying degrees of overtness, one core premise–that catastrophe would result from Black Atlantans exercising political control over whites’ property–has animated white homeowner politics in Atlanta. This of course simplifies the story, but I emphasize that core idea because it’s easy to get lost in arguments about quality of life, fiscal responsibility, or local control that circulate in the political discourse but are dependent on the core idea.

Interdisciplinarity is useful for historians because social scientists working deductively on questions of the role of racism in decision-making help to ground what may seem like more ephemeral or constructed narratives about historical actions. In this case, I’m highlighting research by political scientists Christopher Federico, Matthew Luttig, and Howard Lavine, featured on sociologist Lisa Wade’s blog The Society Pages

Are some Trump supporters’ political views motivated by race?

One way to find out is to see whether the typical Trump supporter is less likely to support policies when they are subtly influenced to think that they are helping black versus white people. This was the root of a study by political scientists Christopher Federico, Matthew Luttig, and Howard Lavine.

Prior to the election, they asked 746 white respondents to complete an internet survey. Each person was randomly assigned to see one of two pictures at the beginning of the survey: a white man standing next to a foreclosure sign or the exact same photograph featuring a black man. Respondents were also asked whether they supported Trump. (Non-white people were left out of the analysis because there were too few Trump supporters among them to run meaningful comparative statistics.)

The first graph shows that white Trump supporters were eight percentage points more likely to oppose mortgage relief if they had seen a “black cue” (the picture featuring a black man) than a “white cue.” The opposite was true for white Trump opponents.

This mirrors findings by Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee posted on the Wester Political Science Association’s blog in March. McDaniel and McElwee conclude noting correlations between education and economic status and Trump support in a US county, that strongly held resentment against racial minorities by whites, defined in terms of a zero-sum or something-for-nothing understanding that gains for minorities come illegitimately at whites’ expense, was the stronger predictor:

While we accept that all of these factors help explain Trump support, we find that racism is the main driver of support for Trump. The model presented here accounts for all of these attitudes and still finds an incredibly strong relationship between racism and support for Trump. The centrality of racism to the Trump phenomenon should not be obscured.

This research is disturbing, but perhaps, in reference to the likelihood of drastic actions by Tom Price, hopeful. On one hand, the reality that the Republican Party has an ideological core of white nationalism or racial resentment evokes horrifying prospects. But, if the party is guided less by a rigid free market ideology and more by a perception that government largesse is simply going to the wrong people, that could mean that social safety net legislation like the Affordable Care Act, with its substantial constituency of white beneficiaries of Medicaid expansion in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Kentucky, could be very difficult to repeal. I’m not a policy wonk by training. I’ve been taught how to pick stuff apart after it’s happened, not to try to evaluate the process as it unfolds. But, it seems as though the difficulty of recrafting the ACA to exclude the “other” while legitimating and preserving benefits to whites may stop the new Congress from repealing it (Sarah Kliff explains).