How Big and Powerful are the Alt-Right, White Supremacists, and Neo-Nazis?

10% of the United States identifies as Alt-Right. WaPo/ABC had a poll last week about Charlottesville and the white nationalist movement in the United States. Interesting stuff. 4% of Americans say they're "strong supporters" of the Alt-Right movement, and 6% say they're "somewhat" supporters. This is, of course, way up from my previous hacked-together estimate of 0.5%. Either it's grown or I was way off. Sadly, we will never know as this is the first good poll I've found.

(Reminder from reader Dan that it's helpful to compare any small numbers to the infamous 4% of Americans that believe lizard-people secretly run the government, just for context. The point is to get you to think about whether a small percentage of people are either crazy or just messing with pollsters, etc.)

Now, on to even more interesting stuff:

41% still have no opinion of the Alt-Right, possibly because they're not clear what it means. For example, 39% of Americans think the Alt-Right holds Neo-Nazi or white supremacists views, with 21% saying it does not and 39% having no opinion. That 39% is similar to our 41% having no opinion about them, so it's likely that they're simply uninformed.  

50% oppose the Alt-Right. So that's, at the minimum, a 5:1 oppose ratio. A similar 56% disapprove of Trump's response to Charlottesville (a 2:1 ratio to the 28% that approve).

Neo-Nazi Bonus

WaPo/ABC decided to wade into the Neo-Nazi / white supremacist issue. The way the question was worded was very interesting and leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Here's the full text: 


This question asks whether it's acceptable to hold these views, rather than if people support those views (such as the question about supporting the Alt Right). Given the juxtaposition to lots of "support" questions before, WaPo/ABC using a different word here implies a different question. Of the 9% that find it acceptable, how many are sympathetic to the ideology versus a radical form of tolerant? (Lest anyone remind me later, the "paradox of tolerance" is worth reading and considering.) Some form of "in America you can think anything you want?"

Here's an example that might demonstrate a potential gap between "acceptable" and "supportive:" in 2011, Rasmussen found that 11% of Americans say "Communism is better than the US system of politics and economics." It is likely (I could not find a poll) that more than 11% would say it is acceptable for someone to be Communist, even if they were horrified at the idea of the US being run like the USSR. It is likely that some gap between "accepts" and "supports" exists.

I'd also have been interested to see them break up "white supremacist views" and "neo-Nazi views," as I assume someone could find racism acceptable without accepting someone believing the specific form of ideology that is Nazism. 

The possible problem with the question's wording is that people could interpret "accepts" as "supports" and thereby conclude that 9% of Americans are neo-Nazis. The Hill did this on the 21st, posting an article with the title, "Poll: American support for neo-Nazi views nearly double digits." 


They later changed the title to be more accurate.


Has White Supremacy Grown Recently?

Why, great question!

Let's look back a bit. The Anti-Defamation League in 2015 said that between 2009 and 2015, most white supremacist groups (including neo-Nazis) were in decline, with the exception of prison gangs, which were growing, and a growing-but-small number of "Odinists" (which is as weird as it sounds). On the net, they say white supremacists did not grow in size but throughout that period they did become more violent. This stands in contrast to anti-government militias, which have grown.

What about after 2015?

Tracking white supremacy is obviously tough but people try. We can't simply look to the size or number of official groups such as the KKK; the ADL claims most white supremacists are not so formally organized. But it's a start: according to the SPLC, the number of hate groups in the United States jumped 17% between 2014 and 2016 (note only half of these are white supremacist groups--it includes for example the Black Panthers/Nation of Islam, anti-government militias, and anti-LGBT groups. It has sometimes faced criticism for some of the choices of who's in the same list as the Nationalist Socialist party. Here is its list of groups.) The ADL, in its report, said that at least between 2009 and 2015, many white supremacist groups fractured into smaller groups over ideological differences or changes in leadership. Tough to say how much of the growth in hate group numbers is due to fracturing versus recruitment.

The only numerical estimate I've seen for people that are serious White Supremacists (total, including unaffiliated) is from a former counter-terrorism expert at the DHS, Daryl Johnson. He says that he'd place their numbers at "the hundreds of thousands in the United States." He made that estimate on August 13, 2017. If that's, say, 500,000 people, it's about 0.4% of the adult population. It's of course really hard to count up the number of people you may-or-may-not call "racists" of some variety.

At that size, it doesn't provide much of a base for any real political change. The Anti-Defamation league's director says their viewpoint is "a dystopian fantasy that has virtually no chance of actually happening... it's safe to say that a white nationalist state is not a place most Americans of all races would want to find themselves living." 

500,000 people can still do harm. How violent have they been? According to Peter Bergen, a terrorism analyst for CNN:

"Jihadist terrorists have killed 95 people in the U.S. since 9/11, far-right extremists have killed 68 during the same time, including the car attack in Charlottesville." 

After the Charlottesville attack, Slate listed killings by white supremacists since the Oklahoma City bombing. They have 3 listed for 2017.

Nonviolent attacks appear to be about 300 per year, according to West Point research.

So that's the state of the game. No viewpoint in particular to ReConsider, but hopefully the data helps you get your head around the size of the field.


Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.