December 12, 2016

Most Americans haven’t heard of the ‘alt-right’

News of the political movement known as the alt-right has sparked considerable debate in recent weeks, with President-elect Donald Trump drawing criticism for naming a senior adviser who is associated with it and media outlets wrestling with how to define and refer to it. Most Americans, however, haven’t heard of the movement at all.

A majority (54%) of U.S. adults say they have heard “nothing at all” about the “alt-right” movement and another 28% have heard only “a little” about it, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. Just 17% say they have heard “a lot” about the movement.

Liberal Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are far more likely than other Democrats to have heard about the movement. Two-thirds of liberal Democrats (66%) have heard a lot or a little about it, compared with fewer than half of conservative or moderate Democrats (39%) and just four-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners overall (40%).

Among those who say they have heard “a lot” or “a little” about the alt-right, roughly a third (34%) associate the movement with “white supremacy” or “white nationalism.” That was the most common answer provided in an open-ended question asking respondents about their impressions of what the movement stands for, ahead of “racism” or “prejudice” (14%) and “extreme right-wing movement” (12%). 

There are stark partisan differences in impressions of the alt-right movement. Democrats (47%) are nearly three times as likely as Republicans (17%) to say the movement stands for “white supremacy” or “white nationalism.” Democrats are also more likely than Republicans to associate the movement with “racism” or “prejudice” (18% of Democrats, 10% of Republicans). By contrast, Republicans (8%) are more likely than Democrats (less than 1%) to describe the alt-right more generically as a “conservative movement” and are more likely to decline to volunteer a response at all (39% vs. 21%).

Aside from the sizable partisan gap in awareness of the alt-right movement, there also are educational differences. About three-quarters (76%) of those with postgraduate degrees say they have heard a lot or a little about the alt-right, with 39% saying they have heard a lot about it.

Most college graduates (61%) also have heard at least a little about the alt-right, but there is less awareness of the movement among those with some college experience but no degree (42%) and those with no more than a high school education (34%).

Topics: U.S. Political Parties, Political Attitudes and Values, Political Polarization, 2016 Election

  1. Photo of John Gramlich

    is a writer/editor at Pew Research Center.