New findings show most people have no idea what “alt-right” means

This child knows something most Americans don’t.
This child knows something most Americans don’t.
Image: AP/Jose Luis Magana
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

“Alt-right” was a finalist for Oxford Dictionaries’ 2016 international word of the year. The term appeared in over two hundred New York Times articles in 2016. For news junkies, the story of the rise of the alt-right—the name for the increasingly prominent group of White nationalists that have been among US president-elect Donald Trump’s biggest supporters—was unavoidable.

But the truth is most Americans have never even heard of the alt-right. The media is fascinated by the alt-right. The general public not so much.

On Dec. 12, 2016, the Pew Research Center published survey data showing that over 50% of Americans have heard “Nothing at all” about the alt-right. The survey was conducted from Nov. 30-Dec. 5, 2016.

Among the 45% of Americans who profess either knowing “A little” or “A lot” about the alt-right, respondents from the two major political parties diverge in what they think it stands for: 65% of Democrats or Democratic-leaning respondents said they thought the alt-right stood for White supremacy, White nationalism, or racism. Only 39% of Republican or Republican-leaning respondents said the same. Many more Republicans who claimed to have heard of the alt-right said they didn’t know what it stood for: 39% to 21%.

Note: This was an open ended question. We have only included responses that received more than 10% of the total.

The political groups most aware of the alt-right are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Liberals were the most likely group to say they knew about the alt-right at 66%. But second were Conservatives at 44%. Less than 40% of people who consider themselves moderate had heard of the group. While the left fears the alt-right’s access to the White House—primarily in the form Donald Trump’s chief strategist Steven Bannon—the vast majority of Americans in the middle of the political spectrum are unaware that it even exists.