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GOP's culture-war strategy ensures race will be central to politics for years to come

With or without Donald J. Trump atop the party, the Republican strategy for the 2022 elections and beyond virtually assures race — and racism — will be central to political debate for years to come. 

Why it matters: In an era when every topic seems to turn quickly to race, Republicans see this most divisive issue as either political necessity or an election-winner — including as it relates to voting laws, critical race theory, big-city crime, immigration and political correctness. 

The big picture: These topics pit the mostly white GOP against the very diverse Democratic Party. It's unfolding in local school boards, national politics and on social media.

An Axios-Ipsos poll on race relations last month shows this starkly, Axios managing editor Margaret Talev writes:

  • There's a massive gulf between how Republicans and Democrats view race — a 66-point gap on whether the U.S. must continue making changes to give Black Americans equal rights to white Americans. 
  • There's a 48-point gap on whether the events of the past year led to a realization there's still a lot of racism in the U.S. — and a 49-point gap on whether the protests were good for society.

Of all demographic groups, white people were the most resistant to structural reforms to address institutional racism — a gap driven by Republican sentiment.

  • Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs says the GOP focus on race looks counterproductive at first, since a majority of Americans favor continued efforts to equalize the playing field for Black Americans.
  • But the pollster said a closer look reveals that the GOP's focus is more strategic — around specific ideas that drive culture wars and could potentially move swing voters.

Here's where the GOP sees an opening: In our poll, just one in five white independents supports the "defund the police" movement.

  • Half of white independents say the media exaggerates stories of police brutality and racism.
  • Two in five white independents say social policies, including affirmative action, discriminate unfairly against white people.
  • Those issues prime this slice of the electorate for messaging that paints Democrats as extreme on issues around race.

Between the lines: Republicans have at times played on racial fears for decades. It became more explicit in the Trump era.

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