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One-third of Americans agree with elements of racist ‘replacement’ theory, new UMass poll says

White nationalists marched toward a statue of Thomas Jefferson on the University of Virginia campus in Charlottesville, Aug. 11, 2017.EDU BAYER/NYT

One-third of Americans and nearly two-thirds of Republicans agree with some elements of a racist conspiracy theory that claims the United States is in danger of losing its “culture and identity” because of immigration, according to a new UMass Amherst poll.

In the national poll of 1,000 respondents, 37 percent of men and 29 percent of women said they agreed that “the growth in the number of immigrants in the country means that America is in danger of losing its culture and identity.”

An even greater number — 43 percent of men and 31 percent of women — said they agreed that some elected officials want to increase immigration “to bring in obedient voters who will vote for them.”


Both statements are tenets of the so-called great replacement theory, a racist conspiracy falsely claiming there is a coordinated and surreptitious effort “to replace white populations in current white-majority countries,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks far-right extremist groups.

“A disturbing proportion of the American public endorses this right-wing conspiracy theory, which holds that politicians and corporations are conspiring to replace native-born white people with docile immigrants from developing countries,” Jesse Rhodes, a professor of political science at UMass Amherst and an associate director of the poll, said in a statement.

The poll was conducted on behalf of UMass by YouGov Oct. 17-19.

The numbers are starker when political affiliation is taken into account. Sixty percent of Republicans agreed that the country is in danger of losing its culture because of immigration, and 66 percent agreed there’s an effort to bring in obedient voters, according to the poll.

A full 72 percent of respondents who voted for Donald Trump agreed with the “obedient voters” statement.

“We can see why immigration is such a boiling issue,” Raymond La Raja, a professor of political science at UMass Amherst and an associate director of the poll, said in a statement. “Grappling with immigration policy will continue to be among the most challenging tasks for political leadership. There is no dodging the strong emotions that drive people’s politics on this issue.”


The divisions remained clear when pollsters asked whether “racial and ethnic diversity tends to strengthen the character of a country.” Slightly more than half of men — 53 percent — agreed with the statement, as did 60 percent of women.

Respondents who voted for Biden were much more likely to agree with the diversity statement (83 percent) than were Trump voters (38 percent).

The “great replacement” conspiracy theory first emerged in France in the early 20th century and has long been embraced by white supremacists and other extremists, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which works to combat extremism and antisemitism.

In recent years, hateful tenets of the replacement theory have been invoked in several mass shootings.

The man accused in 2018 of killing 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh claimed online that Jewish people controlled immigration. The white supremacist who allegedly killed 23 people at an El Paso Walmart said he was fueled by “the Hispanic invasion of Texas,” authorities said. The suspect in the mass shooting of 10 Black shoppers at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket allegedly posted a manifesto full of references to the “great replacement.” White nationalists carrying torches in Charlottesville, Va., chanted, “Jews will not replace us.”


But it’s not just in shadowy recesses of the dark web that the racist ideology lurks. The tenets of conspiracy theory have increasingly been mainstreamed by conservative politicians and media personalities, according to the UMass poll directors.

“Although frustration with immigration is undoubtedly related to the nation’s failure to adopt comprehensive immigration reforms, it is also likely that these attitudes are influenced by conservative media, which have increasingly circulated themes related to the ‘Great Replacement’ theory on programs such as ‘Tucker Carlson Tonight,’” Rhodes said in the statement.

Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hayley.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeHayleyK.