Poll: 61% of Trump voters agree with idea behind 'great replacement' conspiracy theory

·West Coast Correspondent
·7-min read

A new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that more than 6 in 10 Donald Trump voters (61%) agree that “a group of people in this country are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants and people of color who share their political views” — a core tenet of the false conspiracy theory known as the “great replacement.”

Less than a quarter of Trump voters (22%) disagree with that statement.

So-called replacement theory has been covered extensively in the days following the May 14 murder spree carried out by a white supremacist at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store. The suspect, an adherent of the conspiracy theory, shot and killed 10 Black shoppers in the attack.

Former President Donald Trump faces a crowd at a rally.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Florence, Ariz., on Jan. 15. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The survey of 1,573 U.S. adults — which was conducted from May 19 to 22 — found that relatively few Americans (just 34% overall) believe in the underlying idea behind replacement theory, and more than twice as many Americans strongly disagree (33%) than strongly agree (14%) with it. (An Associated Press-NORC poll conducted before the shooting delivered a similar result after posing similar questions to U.S. adults.)

Yet on the right — where media figures such as Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson and politicians such as third-ranking House Republican Elise Stefanik have “borrowed and remixed [replacement theory] to attract audiences, retweets and small-dollar donations,” according to a recent New York Times report — variations of replacement theory now enjoy broad support.

“A Times investigation published this month showed that in more than 400 episodes of his show, Mr. Carlson has amplified the notion that Democratic politicians and other assorted elites want to force demographic change through immigration, and his producers sometimes scoured his show’s raw material from the same dark corners of the internet that the Buffalo suspect did,” the paper explained.

As a result, 54% of Republicans and 53% Fox News viewers now also agree that “a group of people in this country are trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants and people of color who share their political views,” according to the Yahoo News/YouGov poll. In both cases, just a third disagree. The rest are unsure.

This represents a striking degree of mainstream GOP consensus around a falsehood that’s a cornerstone of white-supremacist rhetoric. White nationalist proponents of the conspiracy theory have carried out several recent mass shootings, from Buffalo to Pittsburgh to El Paso to Christchurch, New Zealand.

The theory itself has no basis in reality. Demographic change is one thing. A secret, elite plot to create a more pliable electorate is something else entirely.

Most Trump voters (73%) and Republicans (64%) also say that “discrimination against white people has become as big a problem as discrimination against Black people in the U.S.,” and roughly the same number — 69% and 66%, respectively — say they’re either very or somewhat concerned that “native-born Americans are losing economic, political, and cultural influence in this country to immigrants.”

Such numbers underscore how the right and left are living in different worlds when it comes to racial issues after the Buffalo shooting.

There is one point of agreement. When a random half of poll respondents were asked if it’s “fair to describe the shooter’s motivations as ‘racist’” — based solely on “what you know about the recent shooting in Buffalo, N.Y.” — most Trump voters (57%) and Joe Biden voters (86%) said yes. (Almost none — just 11% and 6%, respectively — said no.)

When the other half of poll respondents were given a description of the attack noting that the shooter was a “white man who ... first posted an online manifesto accusing people of color of seeking to ‘ethnically replace my own people,’ then traveled to a predominantly Black neighborhood to commit the crime,” even more Biden voters (90%) and Trump voters (68%) were willing to characterize his motivations as racist.

At the same time, more than 6 in 10 Americans say they’re following the news about the Buffalo shooting either “very closely” (21%) or “somewhat closely” (42%).

Beyond that, however, any overlap between the two sides breaks down.

 

More than three-quarters (77%) of Biden voters, for instance, select racism as one of the issues that “played a role” in the Buffalo shooting. Only 42% of Trump voters say the same — roughly the same number (40%) who select “liberal media (such as MSNBC)” as a contributing factor.

Asked to choose which of eight issues played the “biggest” role in the shooting, most Trump voters pick mental illness (56%), followed by racism (15%) and liberal media (14%). Just 2% say “too many guns.”

In contrast, a plurality of Biden voters select racism (39%), followed by “conservative media (such as Fox News)” (27%), mental illness (14%) and too many guns (10%).

This means that overall, Americans are split over whether racism (32%) or mental illness (30%) played the biggest role in the shooting, with little commonality between the right and left.

Buffalo police on scene after the shooting at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y.
Buffalo police on scene after the shooting at a Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 14. (John Normile/Getty Images)

A similar divide persists over how to prevent similar massacres in the future. Trump voters are roughly three times as likely as Biden voters to believe that “there is no way to stop mass shootings in the U.S.” (30% vs. 11%) or that “mass shootings in the U.S. can already be stopped by enforcing the current laws” (38% vs. 11%). In contrast, two-thirds of Biden voters (67%) believe “there is a way to stop mass shootings in the U.S., but it would require drastic change in laws.” Just 18% of Trump voters agree.

Likewise, most Biden voters (54%) think “stricter gun laws could have prevented the mass shooting in Buffalo” while more than three-quarters of Trump voters (77%) say the opposite.

Given that gap, it’s unsurprising that there’s been no movement on gun control among Americans in the wake of the shooting. In a March 2021 Yahoo News/YouGov poll, 50% of U.S. adults wanted handgun laws to be more strict, 13% wanted them to be less strict and 27% wanted no change. Today those numbers are statistically unchanged: 47%, 14% and 28%, respectively.

Why are these divides so stubborn? Media habits likely contribute. Just 40% of U.S. adults say they’ve heard of “replacement theory” or “the Great Replacement,” for example. But that awareness is much higher with MSNBC (63%) and CNN viewers (48%) than Fox News viewers (36%) — even though Fox News viewers are much more amenable to the underlying concept.

Another example emerges in new poll questions about political violence in America. Over the past decade, the Anti-Defamation League has counted about 450 U.S. murders committed by political extremists. According to the ADL, of these 450 killings, right-wing extremists committed about 75%; left-wing extremists were responsible for 4%.

But when asked how many U.S. murders linked to political extremism have been committed by right-wing extremists over the last decade, just 23% of Fox News viewers said “almost all” or “more than half.” MSNBC viewers, meanwhile, were three times more likely to answer correctly (66% almost all or more than half) than incorrectly (22% “almost none” or “less than half”), while CNN viewers were more than twice as likely to answer correctly (50%) than incorrectly (21%).

Instead, most Fox viewers (50%) think “left-wing extremists” have committed a majority of political murders over the last decade. Among Trump voters, that number rises to 55%.

Accordingly, 71% of Trump voters and 61% of Fox News viewers say “left-wing violence” is a “bigger problem in America today” than “right-wing violence.”

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The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,573 U.S. adults interviewed online from May 19 to 22, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.8%.

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