Who are the most right-wing Americans?
A look at ethnic origins.
Written by Noah Carl.
It’s well known that there are sizeable race differences in political attitudes and voting patterns in the US.
Most white people support the Republicans, while most non-white people support the Democrats. In the 2020 election, 57% of whites voted for Trump – compared to 32% of Hispanics, 31% of Asians and just 12% of blacks. If only whites had voted, Trump would have won the vast majority of states; if only-non whites had voted, he would not have won any.
But what about differences between more fine-grained groups, such as English Americans versus Irish Americans?
We can examine these using data from the General Social Survey, which includes a question on the respondent’s ethnic origin. Specifically, he or she is asked, “From what countries or part of the world did your ancestors come?” Since the GSS has a very large sample size when the various waves are combined, it is feasible to examine differences between many ethnic origin groups. (These data were analysed previously by Sean Last.)
Differences in political views are shown below. All groups for which the unweighted number of observations was at least 100 were included, as were all survey waves between 1972 and 2022. Sample weights were applied (though doing so made little difference). Groups are ordered by percentage conservative.
There is a relatively clear pattern: Americans of Northern European origin are the most conservative; those of Southern and Eastern European origin are intermediate; and those of Asian, African or Mexican origin are the least conservative.
Among Europeans, Swiss, Dutch and British are the most conservative, while Lithuanians, Russians and Romanians are the least. Among Asians, Chinese are the most conservative and Indians are the least. Interestingly, Arabs are the second-least conservative – which is somewhat unexpected, though less so when you consider that they’re highly selected.
The pattern for European-origin groups is consistent with contemporary variation in economic freedom across countries. Generally speaking, economic freedom is higher in Northern Europe and somewhat lower in Southern and Eastern Europe. There are exceptions, however. The Baltics tend to score quite high on economic freedom (though they could be considered part of Northern Europe).
Results for party ID are very similar, as shown below. Americans of Northern European origin are the most likely to be Republican; those of Southern and Eastern European origin are intermediate, while those of Asian, African or Mexican origin are the least likely to be Republican. This is hardly surprising, as conservative political views are one of the best predictors of voting Republican.
Plotting percentage Republican against percentage conservative at the ethnic origin level confirms there is a very strong relationship between the two (r = .82, p < 0.001).
Eye-balling the residuals reveals a few interesting patterns. Africans and Mexicans are somewhat less likely to identify as Republican than you’d expect based on the percentage who have conservative views. By contrast, Indians and Arabs are somewhat more likely.
Note that not all the differences presented above are statistically significant. With the exception of England & Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Mexico, American Indian and Africa, all the groups had under 1,000 respondents – and in some cases only a few hundred. Having said that, when I ran regression models with England & Wales as the reference category, most groups were indeed significantly less right-wing.
To investigate possible reasons why some groups lean more conservative and Republican than others, I obtained six predictor variables from the GSS:
Average score on the Wordsum vocabulary test
% Saying people get ahead through hard work
% Identifying as Protestant
% Saying they have no doubts that God exists
Average frequency of religious attendance
% Saying most people can be trusted
I then looked at each variable’s correlations with percentage conservative and percentage Republican at the ethnic origin level. In each case, two analyses were performed: one including all 35 groups, and one excluding the 9 non-Western groups (Indians, Africans, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Arabs, Chinese, Filipinos, Mexicans and American Indians). Results are shown below.
The pattern of results is similar for % conservative and % Republican. When including all 35 groups, three variables stand out: average Wordsum score, % Protestant and % most people can be trusted. The correlations are positive in all three cases, indicating that groups with higher Wordsum scores, more protestants and higher levels of trust tend to be more conservative and more Republican.
However, the pattern of results changes when excluding the 9 non-Western groups. Average Wordsum score and % most people can be trusted have much weaker correlations with the two outcome variables. This indicates that differences in average Wordsum score and level of trust are mainly between the Western and non-Western groups.
% Protestant remains a strong predictor and in fact has even stronger correlations with the two outcome variables. % get ahead through hard work also has much stronger correlations with the outcome variables. % no doubts that God exists and average frequency of religious attendance have stronger correlations with % conservative, but their correlations with % Republican do not reach statistical significance.
Protestant identification appears to be the strongest and most consistent predictor of conservative and Republican identification at the ethnic origin level (which is consistent with what Sean Last found). However, beliefs about the importance of hard work may help to explain differences across Western-origin groups.
One caveat is that I combined response categories for the measures of political views and party ID (e.g., “strong Republican” and “not very strong Republican”) and therefore didn’t exploit all the available variation. This was done for ease of presentation. The results might be marginally different without combining response categories.
Overall then, Americans of Northern European origin tend to be the most right-wing, while those of Southern and Eastern European origin tend to be somewhat less so. Americans of Indian origin tend to be the least right-wing, along with those of Mexican and African origin. As to why some groups lean further right than others, Protestant identification and beliefs about the importance of hard work seem to matter.
Noah Carl is an Editor at Aporia Magazine.
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