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.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous8 months ago

    Those who mention alt-right in conversations, of which I am a part, use it to mean those who have opinions different from theirs, with little or no specifics. My guess is that “for now at least” the term is basically meaningless, i.e. just a slur. If somebody uses the term, ask how they arrived at that conclusion. Try to get specifics. Your experience may be like mine. I suspect that the percentage of “exaggerators, liars, name callers, etc.” in almost all reasonably large groups is roughly the same. People like to “belong” so they try to agree with the people they are with, often without even understanding what it is they are agreeing to/with.