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Republicans Seize on Pernicious Lies to Motivate Base and Advance Their Counter-Majoritarian Agenda

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New AP-NORC data reveal Republicans’ turn toward dangerous lies may speak to a radicalized base giving Democrats an opportunity to speak to the values of the multi-racial majority. 

Washington, DC – A new AP-NORC poll finds that 3-in-10 Americans believe some version of the white nationalist “great replacement theory.” This pernicious and racist lie has its origins in the eugenics movement and is frequently associated with anti-Semitism. It falsely claims that there is an intentional and coordinated plot to undermine democracy by replacing the voting power of whites through an invasion of non-white immigrants from the global south. 

This conspiracy theory, which used to be limited to the racist fringes of the Internet, has repeatedly inspired deadly mass violence. It first received broader notice after violent torch-wielding racists marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 chanting “Jews will not replace us,” a weekend that ended in the murder of Heather Heyer. But as America’s Voice has previously noted, this once-fringe and deadly conspiracy theory is now a central organizing principle of the GOP’s midterm strategy. It is being mainstreamed by the loudest voices in right wing media, led by Tucker Carlson, and echoed by an alarming range of Republican elected officials and candidates.

Some of these Republican allies and enablers of white nationalism focus on a related white nationalist conspiracy, hyping a supposed “invasion” of immigrants of color. The America’s Voice ad tracking project has identified 100 different Republican ads that employ the “invasion” rhetoric over the last year. This embrace of “invasion” language is not just coming from the leading nativists of the GOP caucus, but also from the leadership of the Republican Party – from Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), to third-ranking House Republican Elise Stefanik (R-NY). Meanwhile, numerous top-of-the-ticket Republicans running all across the country this November are similarly embracing “invasion” conspiracy theories and adopting related rhetoric. 

The perniciousness of the lie comes not just from the racist violence it inspires, but from the counter-majoritarian project it looks to advance. The core part of the lie holds that these new migrants undermine the United States, a nation shaped by successive generations of immigrants building and strengthening it. The conspiracy also posits that new immigrants who are ineligible to vote are undermining elections by casting illegitimate votes. While this is a phenomenon that does not actually occur, it is a powerful fiction to justify further unnecessary barriers to citizens exercising their right to vote.

But as disturbing as we may find the number of Americans who believe some part of this racist lie – and we should find it very disturbing – the AP-NORC poll also should be a reminder that most Americans still hold firm to the core ideals of a multi-racial democracy and the United States being a welcoming nation.

 From the poll: 

  • 60% say “the ability of people to come from other places in the world to escape violence and persecution” is extremely or very important for the nation’s identity;
  • 66%  think the diversity of the United States makes the country stronger; 
  • 69% say “providing a way for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to stay legally” should be a major or minor priority of the federal government, with 32% saying it should be a major priority. 

According to Zachary Mueller, Political Director of America’s Voice:

Democrats should be clear-eyed about what’s at stake: Republicans and other conservatives are going for broke on their counter-majoritarian project. There is no denying that they are set on rolling back the hard-fought rights that were won over the past half-century on a range of issues, which includes basic rights for immigrants. Like so many authoritarians around the world, they seek to rewrite most Americans out of our nation’s story and undermine core American values. By attacking women’s bodily autonomy, banning books, undercutting voting rights, legislating against the LGBTQI community and employing deadly and racist lies to slam the door on refugees and asylum seekers, Republicans are attacking the fragile promise of a multi-racial democracy.

But Democrats should also recognize that as Republicans turn toward dangerous lies in order to speak to a radicalized minority, they have the opportunity to speak to the values of the multi-racial majority. Democrats cannot win a debate they are not having. The fact that a third of Americans believe fringe conspiracy theories should be a call to action for Democrats and activists to clearly state what is at stake, lest we move farther down the road towards minority rule.