New research provides evidence that Whites who fear their racial group is at risk of being eliminated are more sympathetic towards right-wing extremism. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, suggest that some perceived demographic changes are indirectly related to far-right support.
“I had published a couple of other papers before this on how people react to demographic shifts differently. One of them showed that perceived White population decline can lead to more racial biases and conservative political preferences,” explained study author Max Hui Bai, a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
“As we saw that there is a rise of far-right extremism, I wondered if the decline of White population and the associated perceptions of existential threat are responsible for it in any way.”
The study, which included 2,487 White Americans, found that perceptions of White population decline were indirectly related to right-wing extremism via collective existential threat.
Those who perceived White population decline in America were more likely to agree with statements such as “My racial group may one day disappear” and “My racial group is on the verge of annihilation.” Collective existential threat, in turn, predicted warmer feelings for far-right extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and support for harsh immigration policies, such as unconditionally banning Muslim immigrants from entering the United States and separating parents from children who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
Collective existential threat was not triggered by other types of population change, such as the growth of Hispanic or Asian populations in the United States.
“White population decline, aside from minority population growth, can cause some White Americans to develop a sense of existential threat, which is associated with far-right extremism. Though to be clear, perceptions of White population decline in our experiments itself does not directly cause extremism,” Bai told PsyPost.
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations.
“It is unclear how well the findings generalize beyond the U.S. context and beyond racial demographic shift. In other contexts, cultures, or under different framings, I think it is very possible that the effect may be attenuated or reversed,” Bai explained.
“For example, I recently found in a different project that Democrats and Republicans have divergent responses to Muslim population growth (Democrat celebrates it, but Republicans don’t like it). In a conference, I also saw someone who showed that Chinese citizens are more willing to welcome immigrants if they learned that their demographic slowdown can have negative economic impacts.”
The study, “White and minority demographic shifts, intergroup threat, and right-wing extremism“, was authored by Hui Bai and Christopher M. Federico.