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Since the mid-60s Republicans have seen an electoral opportunity in appealing to the basest, racist sentiments of a section of the white electorate. What became known as the “Nixon strategy” aimed to use the dog whistle of racial symbolism – like “Welfare Queens” and “Willie Horton” – to draw white southerners into the Republican fold and peel off disaffected whites in the north too. It worked. Since the second world war, Democrats have won the presidency with the white vote alone only once – in 1964. One of the appeals for some whites of voting Republican is a desire to maintain whatever limited racial privileges they have acquired over the years combined with a fear that what little they have will be taken away by feckless non-whites and undocumented migrants. While in Nevada in 2010 I asked a white Republican without health insurance why she wouldn’t support a candidate who might give it to her. “I never really got into that Obamacare insurance stuff,” she said. “My mind is focusing 250% on this illegal immigration.” None of this means all Republican supporters are racist. But it does suggest they make their appeal on racial grounds and, as the poll shows, it is effective. Gary Younge

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