Is “Anti-Wokeness” Losing Steam Among Republicans?

Blue and red heads facing each other

Getty Images

Republican voters care more about other issues — and even back some social causes.

A slew of conservative politicians have been crusading against liberal “wokeness” as a rallying cry to unite their base. It’s almost impossible to ignore these days, appearing in dozens of GOP speeches, tweets, and other statements. But a new survey suggests that it might not be as much of a priority as other issues.

When given the hypothetical choice between two Republicans, just 24 percent of voters said they’d choose the candidate focused on defeating “radical ‘woke’ ideology,” compared to 65 percent who preferred the one prioritizing law and order, such as border security and crime, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll.

Nevertheless, the word has been used up and down the campaign trail. Some, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have made the war on wokeness central to their campaign, while others have started to distance themselves from it. In June, Donald Trump declared that he didn’t like to use it. “‘Woke, woke, woke,’” Trump said at a campaign stop in Iowa. “It’s just a term they use, half the people can’t even define it, they don’t know what it is.”

As the buzzword appears to fall flat, here’s what it means and why Republicans have been going after the four-letter word. 

What does the term “woke” mean and where did it come from?

The meaning of the term “woke” depends on who you ask, because the answer can vary. While some Democrats proudly wear it as a badge of honor, Republicans use it as a catchall word to encompass anything they dislike about the left or liberal ideology, such as discussing race or gender in schools. 

Before getting caught in the political crossfire, it was originally coined by Black Americans during the early racial justice movements throughout the 1900s. One of its earliest uses was in the 1938 protest song “Scottsboro Boys” by Lead Belly, where he used it to refer to staying aware of potential racist violence. “I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through Alabama — stay woke, keep their eyes open,” he said at the time

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term gained widespread popularity at the start of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2014. “Woke is now defined in this dictionary as “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice),” it states. In recent years, the meaning of the word has become diluted on social media, or used pejoratively for anyone who is or appears to be liberal.

What do voters think about the GOP attack on “wokeness?”

The Republican’s crusade against wokeness may not carry as much political sway as previously thought, even among the party’s older voters, who continue to make up most of its base. 

The same New York Times/Siena College survey found that just 17 percent back the GOP’s “anti-woke” battle (and these numbers are nearly identical in battleground states like Iowa).

Instead, Republicans seem to be leaning towards a more hands-off approach. Roughly 38 percent of voters said they’d support a candidate who promised to fight corporations with a “woke” left ideology, versus 52 percent who preferred someone who thought the government should stay out of the matter altogether. In fact, some conservatives even support certain social issues: A Gallup survey in June found that 49 percent of GOP voters support same-sex marriage, compared to 84 percent of Democrats.

If anything, some say attacks on “wokeness” have backfired. Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the trade organization Partnership for NYC, told Politico that DeSantis’ legal feud with Disney over how issues of sexuality and gender identity are taught in schools has totally alienated businesses. “Who would donate to him in an impossible situation with their employees and their customers,” she said. 

After all, DeSantis’ campaign to go after “Woke Disney” certainly doesn’t look like it’s helping him in the polls. Even though he was once considered one of Trump’s most formidable challengers, he’s polling at 15.7 percent, compared to the former president’s 53.7 percent, according to RealClearPolitics polling aggregate of national polls.