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The Sword's Other Edge: Perceptions Of Discrimination And Racial Policy Opinion After Obama

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This study explores the impact of a momentous political event, the election of the nation's first black president, Barack Obama, in 2008, on perceptions of racism and opinions about racial policy. A representative panel study of Americans interviewed immediately before and after the election reveals a roughly 10 percent decline in perceptions of racial discrimination. About one quarter of respondents revised their perceptions of discrimination downward. We explore several explanations for this decline. First, motivated-reasoning theory would predict larger declines among those whose priors tell them that racism was a diminished force to begin with. Second, changes could be concentrated among those who have the least contact with out-group members, or who are less knowledgeable about politics, and therefore weight Obama's victory heavily in deciding how much racism exists in America. Third, based on theories of emotion and cognition, anxiety but not anger before the election might trigger substantial updating of beliefs. We found the drop in perceived discrimination to be widespread across groups in the population, with conservatives but not necessarily racially resentful whites exhibiting somewhat larger declines. Residential racial context had no effect on changes in perception, though declines were larger among the least politically knowledgeable. More notably, those citizens anxious but not angry before the election displayed much larger declines in perceived discrimination. Finally, declines in perceived discrimination were associated with increases in negative opinions of blacks and heightened opposition to both affirmative action and immigration.
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Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 75, No. 2, Summer 2011, pp. 201–226
THE SWORD’S OTHER EDGE
PERCEPTIONS OF DISCRIMINATION AND RACIAL
POLICY OPINION AFTER OBAMA
NICHOLAS A. VALENTINO
*
TED BRADER
Abstract This study explores the impact of a momentous political
event, the election of the nation’s first black president, Barack Obama,
in 2008, on perceptions of racism and opinions about racial policy. A
representative panel study of Americans interviewed immediately before
and after the election reveals a roughly 10 percent decline in perceptions
of racial discrimination. About one quarter of respondents revised their
perceptions of discrimination downward. We explore several explana-
tions for this decline. First, motivated-reasoning theory would predict
larger declines among those whose priors tell them that racism was
a diminished force to begin with. Second, changes could be concentrated
among those who have the least contact with out-group members, or who
are less knowledgeable about politics, and therefore weight Obama’s
victory heavily in deciding how much racism exists in America. Third,
based on theories of emotion and cognition, anxiety but not anger before
the election might trigger substantial updating of beliefs. We found the
drop in perceived discrimination to be widespread across groups in the
population, with conservatives but not necessarily racially resentful
whites exhibiting somewhat larger declines. Residential racial context
had no effect on changes in perception, though declines were larger
NICHOLAS A. VALENTINO is Associate Professor of Political Science and Communication Studies and
Research Associate Professor, Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,
MI, USA. T
ED BRADER is Associate Professor of Political Science and Research Associate Professor,
Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA. This research was
supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation [SES-0452726 to T. B. and N. V.]. The
authors thank Krysha Gregorowicz and Timothy Ryan for excellent research assistance and Nancy
Burns, Stanley Feldman, Eric Groenendyk, Leonie Huddy, Donald Kinder, David Sears, Paul Snider-
man, Robert Van Houweling, Regina Lawrence and her students at LSU, as well as attendees of the
American Politics Seminar at George Washington University, the Princeton University Conference
on the 2008 presidential election, and the Center for Political Studies seminar at the University of
Michigan for useful feedback.
*
Address correspondence to Nicholas A. Valentino, Center for Po-
litical Studies, University of Michigan, 426 Thompson Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104–2321,
USA; e-mail: nvalenti@umich.edu.
doi: 10.1093/poq/nfr010 Advance Access publication May 4, 2011
Ó The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Association for Public Opinion Research.
All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
at University of Michigan on September 21, 2011poq.oxfordjournals.orgDownloaded from
among the least politically knowledgeable. More notably, those citizens
anxious but not angry before the election displayed much larger declines
in perceived discrimination. Finally, declines in perceived discrimination
were associated with increases in negative opinions of blacks and height-
ened opposition to both affirmative action and immigration.
Introduction
This article explores the impact of momentous political events that could serve
as salient markers of fundamental social changes to the average citizen. Observ-
ers have long speculated that major media events influence the pictures of social
reality in our heads (Lippmann 1922). Examples abound, such as the impact of
the 9/11 attacks on perceptions of U.S. vulnerability to terrorism (Traugott et al.
2002), increases in perceptions of risks from nuclear power after the Three Mile
Island and Chernobyl disasters (Rosa and Dunlap 1994), and changes in per-
ceptions of climate change after record-breaking snowstorms (Gallup 2010).
Unfortunately, the impact of dramatic historical events is difficult to measure
because scholars rarely have good observations of key variables immediately
prior to the event. As a result, it is difficult to test distinct theoretical predictions
about how, if at all, such events shape mass perceptions. In this article, we use
a unique panel survey collected before and after the 2008 presidential election
to measure the impact of the election of America’s first black president, Barack
Obama, on perceptions of discrimination.
We have three goals. First and foremost, we describe the impact Obama’s
election had on perceptions of discrimination across social and political groups
in America. Second, we examine three distinct but not mutually exclusive
explanations for the significant declines we observemotivated reasoning,
informational mass, and emotional triggersand upon which we will elaborate.
Third, we explore the consequences of changes in perceptions of racism for
policy opinions and group attitudes.
The 2008 Presidential Election
Well before the primary season began in 2008, it became clear that Barack
Obama and Hillary Clinton were major contenders for the Democratic Party
ticket. The possibility of either a woman or a black man becoming president
triggered a national discussion about how far we have come in terms of racial
and gender equality, and how far we have left to go. Following Election Day,
journalistic accounts characterized Obama’s victory as a moment of national
pride for blacks and a sign that whitesÕ racial biases had softened. The New
York Times quoted a middle-aged white woman as saying that even in her small
Illinois town ‘‘people of different races [were] being kinder to each other since
Obama’s election. And in Kansas City, a white Republican homemaker, Mary
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Robertson, 78, said Obama’s ‘openness and acceptance have helped others be
more open and accepting’’ (Stolberg and Connelly 2009). A nation that elected
an African American to its highest office, the logic goes, could not be plagued
with racism. Of course, doubts about the validity of such optimistic conclusions
began to surface almost immediately, since racial animus probably reduced
Obama’s margin of victory relative to what would have been expected for
a non-black Democratic candidate in 2008 (Smith and King 2009; Tesler
and Sears 2010; Kinder and Dale-Riddle forthcoming; Piston 2010).
The obvious normative concern is that declines in the perception, but not the
reality, of racial discrimination could sap public support for policies needed to
achieve equality. Indeed, progressive leaders began to worry that it was ‘con-
servatives, not civil rights groups, who are seizing the political moment, using
the promise of Ôpost-racialismÕ to try to scale back protections for minorities in
the legal system’ (Ewers 2009). Affirmative action is justified most strongly
when blacks and other minorities are seen as facing discrimination, mandating
intervention in order to achieve equality of opportunity. Racial conservatives
may feel more comfortable expressing opposition to affirmative action if they
can point to concrete evidence that, in fact, the field is already balanced.
Beyond assessing the impact of Obama’s victory on racial perceptions, we
are also interested in the consequences of such changes on attitudes and policy
opinions. On one hand, the election could have produced positive shifts in racial
attitudes, softening negative views of blacks as a result of the stereotype-de-
fying role models represented by Obama and his family (Bodenhausen et al.
1995). Such a result might enhance support for policies like affirmative action.
On the other hand, if people sincerely updated their perceptions of discrimina-
tion downward as a result of Obama’s election, they might simultaneously
lower their support for policy programs aimed at redressing discrimination.
Some initial evidence suggests that Americans indeed took Obama’s victory as
proof that we live in a ‘post-racial society. In a four-wave study conducted from
October 2008 to February 2009, researchers found that, while many people hold-
ing anti-egalitarian views opposed Obama, some of those who were low on egal-
itarian values actually voted for him to the extent they saw his election as
signifying the end of racism in America (Knowles, Lowery, and Schaumberg
2009). Meanwhile, a series of experiments carried out over the 2008 campaign
revealed that the act of endorsing Obama led individuals, especially racial con-
servatives, to show favoritism to white job candidates and community organiza-
tions over black candidates and organizations (Effron, Cameron, and Monin
2009). This pattern is consistent with previous work showing that individuals
exhibit increased racial bias after establishing their ‘moral credentials’ by
endorsing a member of a stereotyped group (Monin and Miller 2001).
A liberal and ethnically diverse student sample exhibited significant shifts in
outlooks and attitudes from before to immediately after the election (Kaiser
et al. 2009). This study suggested that Obama’s victory enhanced not only
the studentsÕ sense of racial progress, but also the endorsement of the Protestant
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work ethic, and opposition to policies addressing racial inequality such as
affirmative action, desegregation, and efforts to promote equal access to health-
care for minorities. These findings were as strong or stronger among Obama
voters as among McCain voters. It is difficult to generalize from the conve-
nience samples utilized in these studies, but the pattern of findings is provoc-
ative. Did the election have similar effects on the population at large?
Motivated Political Reasoning, Informational Mass, and
Emotional Triggers
Several theoretical approaches might help us predict the impact of a large his-
torical moment like the 2008 election on perceptions of racism in society. One is
that, quite simply, people see the facts they wish to see (Hochschild 2001).
Given the opportunity, citizens rationalize policy views by manufacturing argu-
ments in support of their preferences on the fly (Rahn, Krosnick, and Breuning
1994; Sniderman and Tetlock 1986). If conservatives are predisposed to believe
that racial discrimination has dissipated, then Obama’s election could be seen as
powerful confirmation of that prior belief. Even among racial moderates,
declines in perceived discrimination may have been facilitated by prior oppo-
sition to ‘big government’ social welfare policies. And, of course, those who
harbor racist sentiments might simultaneously, even unconsciously, wish to
deny the existence of racism, further depressing estimates of racism after the
election. Detecting differences in reactions to Obama’s victory among those with
distinct preexisting racial beliefs begs the question of measuring these attitudes,
a topic to which we now turn.
Despite over 30 years of research on the question, there is still debate over
why so many Americans, especially whites, oppose racially redistributive
policies while simultaneously endorsing a norm of racial equality. A substantial
body of scholarship, specifying various social and psychological mechanisms,
indicates a powerful and continuing role for racial prejudice (Blumer 1958;
Kinder and Sears 1981; Sears 1988; Kinder and Sanders 1996; Sears and Henry
2003, 2005; Sidanius and Pratto 1999; Bobo and Hutchings 1996; Tesler and
Sears 2010). Survey measures show unequivocally that old forms of racism
based on the belief that blacks are biologically inferior to whites have declined
(Schuman et al. 1997). In their place, subtle forms of prejudice have emerged,
built on the belief that blacks violate cherished values of hard work and self-
reliance and do not deserve the resources they demand. Others argue that prej-
udice is a diminished force in shaping policy preferences (Sniderman and
Tetlock 1986; Sniderman and Piazza 1993; Sniderman, Crosby, and Howell
2000; Thernstrom and Thernstrom 1997). Instead, they argue, opposition to
racial redistribution springs primarily from a preference for small government
and values such as egalitarianism and non-racialized individualism.
The measurement of racial attitudes is at the heart of the debate. One major
problem revolves around whether surveys can validly tap racial prejudice, given
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social pressures against revealing negative attitudes about African Americans.
One of the central dimensions of the ‘‘new racism’ measures is the belief that
discrimination is a thing of the past (Hunt and Wilson 2009). Those who deny
the continuing impact of discrimination score higher on these measures
(McConahay and Hough 1976; Sears and Henry 2005). However, if citizens
do their best in a complex social environment to estimate the severity of dis-
crimination, there may be significant variation in these perceptions that is not
due to racial bias itself (Huddy and Feldman 2009). Understanding the etiology
of these perceptions, and their sensitivity to highly salient historical events, is
important in the debate about the measurement of racism in America.
A second hypothesis about how highly salient media events might alter
perceptions of discrimination invokes a simple model of informational mass.
Citizens, when prompted for their views, try to make an accurate estimate of the
extent of discrimination in society, drawing on salient events, readily available
examples, and personal experiences (Tversky and Kahneman 1974). If so, two
sorts of factors might condition the size of perceptual changes brought on by
Obama’s election. First, those low in informational mass about politics should
revise their perceptions the most. Those who pay less attention to politics might
have fewer considerations available with which to construct an estimate, so
highly salient events would receive more weight. Second, the respondent’s
local racial context might provide cues from which to generalize about larger
society. Those living in racially heterogeneous communities might have more
experience with discrimination (directed either at them or at someone they
know) and so might weight Obama’s election less heavily as evidence about
the prevalence of discrimination. This is consistent with the finding that racial-
ized news effects are stronger in homogenous white neighborhoods compared
to racially mixed ones (Gilliam, Valentino, and Beckmann 2002).
A third approach points to the emotional triggers in the environment at the
time beliefs about racial discrimination are formed. Specifically, changes in
perceived discrimination may have been facilitated or inhibited by the strong
emotions Americans were experiencing during the campaign. The political
impact of emotion has received increasing attention as of late. A growing
consensus suggests that emotions independently modulate the extent to which
citizens attend to new information, update their beliefs, and participate in
politics (Brader 2006; Marcus, Neuman, and MacKuen 2000; Valentino
et al. 2011). This line of research suggests that negative emotions, especially
anxiety, trigger greater attention to and acceptance of new political information.
News reporting throughout the year prior to the election suggested that the
electorate was experiencing powerful negative emotions. While most
campaigns probably trigger emotional reactions, 2008 may have been special.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had persisted for over five years, major housing
markets had deteriorated precipitously over the prior two years, and the financial
sector began to melt down in the early fall. Layered on top of these alarming
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security and economic trends, the Democratic primary was hard fought beginning
long before the first vote was cast in the Iowa caucuses on January 3.
We have begun to understand the role that distinct negative emotions
anxiety and anger in particularplay in driving attention to information
(Valentino et al. 2008), learning (Huddy, Feldman, and Cassese 2007) persua-
sion (Huddy et al. 2005; Druckman and McDermott 2008), and participation
(Weber 2008; Valentino et al. 2011). Anxiety, as opposed to anger, prompts
attention to new information and leaves a person more willing to revise her
views (Brader 2006; Marcus et al. 2000; Valentino et al. 2008). Before the elec-
tion, therefore, anxious citizens should have paid more attention not only to the
events of the campaign, but also to larger social and economic trends. This pro-
cess of increased political awareness and attention could then have led to larger
updates of beliefs about racism in America. These theories would also predict
that citizens feeling great anger, but not anxiety, before the election would not
have updated their beliefs much at all. These theories predict that anger directed
at any of a variety of targetsthe sitting president, the economic downturn, or
personal circumstancescan have this effect. Furthermore, the emotion itself
and not the group identities, education, or other individual differences associ-
ated with the emotional experience should account for changes in perceptions.
Democrats and those on the left may have been more likely to experience these
negative emotions out of frustration about, and opposition to, the sitting admin-
istration. We expect, however, that the election had very distinct effects on
changing perceptions of racial discrimination for these individuals conditional
on whether they were experiencing greater anger or anxiety.
Methods
SAMPLE
Data for these analyses come from the 2008 Global Issues Election Survey
(GIES), a two-wave panel survey conducted by Knowledge Networks, an
Internet survey firm that maintains a large nationwide sample of respondents
using probability methods. Knowledge Networks participants are recruited
initially via a telephone interview using random digit dial sampling design.
A very large pool of participants is continuously available for interviewing.
After agreeing to participate in the pool, all participants were provided with
computer equipment and free Internet service, even if they already owned
a computer. This recruitment procedure allows for nationally representative
samples, including households that do not initially have Web access, and
ensures comparability of survey presentation for each respondent. The house-
hold recruitment rate into the Knowledge Network pool at the time of our study
was 22 percent (using AAPOR Response Rate 3).
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Respondents for this survey were selected randomly from the Knowledge
Networks pool to represent the adult U.S. population. Selected panelists were
sent an e-mail invitation to participate in the study. They were told the study was
designed to find out what they think about current issues and politics. For the
pre-election wave, 1,184 people were invited to participate. The pre-election
interviews took place between October 22 and November 3, 2008, with the
election occurring on November 4. Of those, 617 completed the survey, for
an initial completion rate of 52 percent. After the election, participants were
invited to complete an additional interview. Post-election interviews began
on November 12 and ended on November 20. Of those who completed the first
wave, the completion rate of the post-election survey was 82 percent. All
questions were answered using the Web interface.
Our panel design specified a very brief time period between waves. The me-
dian number of days between interviews was 20. This choice was intentional; it
helps us isolate the impact of the election itself, the moment when the country
first decided to turn the reins of executive power over to an African American.
Observed differences, one might argue, are underestimates since, by the time of
our first-wave interviews, Obama’s victory was viewed as quite likely. Of
course news about the economic downturn between waves of our study
continued to dominate the national debate and we cannot rule out completely
the effects of these forces.
PANEL ATTRITION AND WEIGHTING
Because we are interested in how and why perceptions of discrimination
changed, our analyses are based upon respondents who completed both inter-
views. As indicated above, the rate of attrition for the panel was 17.5 percent. In
light of the hypotheses, one concern is that those who dropped out might have
had more stable perceptions of discrimination from before until after the
election, thus upwardly biasing our estimates of change. Extensive checks
for biased attrition did not reveal much reason for concern. There were no
statistically significant differences between these groups on party identification,
ideology, racial attitudes, income, education, region (South/non-South),
gender, perceived discrimination in Wave 1, and months of experience in
the Knowledge Networks panel.
1
Slightly fewer whites than blacks dropped
out between waves but, given the size of the changes in perceived discrimina-
tion between both groups, this cannot account for the overall pattern of results.
We use Wave 2 sampling weights throughout the analyses since we wish to
estimate how perceptions changed in the general population and among major
groups within the population.
1. Please see the online appendix at http://poq.oxfordjournals.org/ for more information on panel
attrition.
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MEASURES
Most of the items in the survey were measured using conventional demographic
or attitudinal questions identical to those used in the American National Election
Studies (ANES). For all analyses, explanatory variables were recoded on a the-
oretically possible or observed scale from 0 to 1. Specific question wordings can
be found in appendix A. The primary dependent variable, perceived discrimina-
tion, asks, ‘‘[i]n the past, we have heard a lot about discrimination against black
people in this country. How much discrimination against blacks do you think
there is in this country today? (none, a little, some, or a lot).’ We measured racial
attitudes in three ways: (1) Two items of the racial resentment scale that have
appeared on the ANES were summed. The questions tapped agreement with the
following statements: ‘Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they
deserve’ and ‘Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prej-
udice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special
favors.’ Note that we did not include the racial resentment measure that most
directly taps perceived discrimination (‘‘Generations of slavery and discrimina-
tion have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out
of the lower class.’); (2) The feeling thermometer for blacks; (3) The feeling
thermometer for whites minus the feeling thermometer for blacks. Emotions were
measured by asking how people felt about the way things were going in the coun-
try ‘these days.’ Four additive scales captured reactions of anger (angry, dis-
gusted, outraged; a ¼ .87), anxiety (alarmed, nervous, afraid; a ¼ .81),
sadness (sad, depressed; a ¼ .76), and enthusiasm (hopeful, proud, excited,
happy; a ¼ .79).
2
We also measured policy opinions on affirmative action, im-
migration, welfare, and the death penalty.
Did Obama’s Election Change Perceptions about Racial
Discrimination?
Our first goal is to ascertain whether Barack Obama’s victory caused a decline
in perceptions of racial discrimination. Polls conducted by CNN and Pew over
the course of 2008 indicate that 63 percent of Americans saw ‘discrimination
against blacks’ as a very or somewhat serious problem. This number dropped to
54 percent immediately after the election.
3
The GIES panel data offer us
2. Emotion scales were also constructed from factor scores derived by principal factors analysis. A
weak sadness factor emerges, but these items load moderately well on anxiety. Conclusions using
the factor score scales are identical. In addition, the a priori classification proves a better fit for all
models than the factor score scales. While we use the term ‘anxiety’ throughout this article, we also
use it as a synonym for ‘fear,’ as do many other scholars in this area.
3. Polling data are from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of
Connecticut.
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perhaps an even better look by combining a national probability sample with
a relatively short panel window surrounding the election.
We indeed found a significant drop in perceived racial discrimination
between the pre-election and post-election interviews. Prior to the election,
61 percent said there was ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ discrimination against blacks,
but only 50 percent endorsed that view after the election. In all, more than
1 in 4 Americans (27 percent) revised their estimate of racial discrimination
downward, compared to only 9 percent who revised it upward. The mean
of the 4-point scale (recoded from 0 to 1) dropped from 0.58 pre-election to
0.52 post-election (t ¼ 5.12, p < .001), a greater than 10 percent decline.
4
All significance tests are two-tailed, paired sample t-tests.
We next examined whether changes in perceived discrimination were wide-
spread or concentrated in particular segments of society. Table 1 shows the
pre- and post-election values for perceived discrimination across a wide va-
riety of groups, coded on a 0–1 scale where 0 represents ‘none’ and 1 rep-
resents ‘a lot.’ Not surprisingly, we found pre-election levels of perceived
discrimination to be higher among those groups who are most likely to be
sympathetic to, or aware of, the discrimination faced by blacks in America:
blacks and other minorities, women, those with higher levels of education,
Democrats, liberals, and those who were least racially resentful to begin with.
However, regardless of pre-election scores, perceptions of racial discrimina-
tion dropped significantly among every subgroup we analyzed. Declines oc-
curred across social groups, levels of political awareness, partisanship and
ideological groups, neighborhood contexts, and emotional categories. Aver-
age declines ranged from 7 percent to nearly 16 percent based on pre-election
levels. Changes displayed in table 1 are statistically significant (p < .05) for
every subgroup.
The raw changes in perceptions of discrimination displayed in table 1 are
similar across a wide variety of social and political dimensions. Still, there were
some patterns worth further exploration. For example, Republicans and conser-
vatives, those low in political knowledge, and those who were experiencing
relatively low levels of anger and enthusiasm before the election seemed to
change most.
We also calculated the percentage of respondents from various social and
political groups who perceived less discrimination after the election than they
did before, regardless of the absolute size of the decline. Overall, 27 percent of
Americans perceived lower levels of discrimination after Obama’s victory. For
most subgroups, the proportion ranged between 20 percent and 30 percent. The
motivated-reasoning hypothesis receives some support: Groups with larger pro-
portions perceiving a decline included Republicans (30 percent), conservatives
4. These data do not tell us whether the election itself or the media discussion of the election caused
these changes. This is an important distinction to explore in future research.
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Table 1. Perceived Discrimination among Social and Political Groups
Pre-Election
Mean
Post-Election
Mean (% Change)
Whole Sample .58 .52 10.3
Demographics
Gender Men .56 .49 11.5
Women .61 .55 9.8
Race White .56 .49 11.5
Black .88 .81 8.5
Hispanic .66 .57 13.6
Age Youngest third .60 .53 11.7
Middle third .55 .49 10.9
Oldest third .59 .54 8.5
Income Below median .59 .52 11.9
Above median .58 .52 10.3
Political Knowledge Below median .61 .53 13.1
Above median .55 .51 7.2
Predispositions
Partisanship Democrat .66 .60 9.1
Republican .46 .39 15.2
Independent .57 .52 9.6
Ideology Liberal .66 .60 9.1
Conservative .46 .39 15.2
Moderate .59 .51 15.6
Racial resentment Below median .69 .61 13.1
Above median .46 .42 8.7
Emotions
Anger Low Anger .57 .49 14.0
High Anger .60 .55 8.3
Anxiety Low Anxiety .57 .51 9.1
High Anxiety .60 .53 11.7
Sadness Low Sadness .58 .52 10.3
High Sadness .60 .53 11.7
Enthusiasm Low Enthusiasm .61 .53 13.1
High Enthusiasm .57 .52 8.8
Local Context
% Black in County Below median .56 .49 14.3
Above median .60 .55 8.3
% White in County Below median .61 .54 11.5
Above median .55 .50 9.1
NOTE.All pre/post mean differences are statistically significant at p < .05 using two-tailed
paired sample t-tests. Total N is 509.
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(30 percent), and McCain supporters (29 percent), while groups with some of
the fewest members perceiving a decline in discrimination included blacks (20
percent), liberals (21 percent), and Obama supporters (22 percent).
5
These
group differences, though consistent with motivated reasoning, are substan-
tively modest in size. Our primary conclusion is that all groups updated their
perceptions of discrimination downward.
We were somewhat surprised at the relative uniformity of declines in per-
ceived discrimination across different groups in society. Still, we cannot make
much of these raw comparisons for two reasons. First, only multivariate anal-
yses can tell us whether any of these bivariate comparisons hold up to controls
for related forces. Second, we suspect that there may be ceiling and/or floor
effects biasing these estimates. In particular, regression to the mean may be
distorting comparisons of those who begin very high on the scale of perceived
discrimination with those who start out closer to average. Extreme high scores
on perceived discrimination in Wave 1 may decline more by Wave 2 simply
due to measurement error. For the same reason, extremely low scores should
be less likely to decline further. Multivariate analysis is essential to learning
which, if any, of the overlapping social and political dimensions independently
predict changes in perceived discrimination. It also allows us to control for
regression to the mean by controlling for initial (Wave 1) levels of perceived
discrimination.
Each of the first three columns in table 2 contains a separate set of items meant
to tap a distinct explanation for declines in discrimination as a result of Obama’s
election, controlling for demographic variables and the lagged (pre-election)
value of perceived discrimination. The fourth column contains the omnibus
model combining all predictors. Note that in all models the lagged measure
has the expected significant negative sign, reflecting its adjustment for regres-
sion to the mean. Also worth noting is that none of the demographic attributes
emerges consistently as a significant explanatory factor, indicating that declines
were consistent across gender, age, race, education, and income groups.
Directly interpreting the coefficients in table 1 is difficult. Since all groups
experienced declines in discrimination, a positive coefficient does not mean that
perceptions of discrimination increased from before until after the election. In-
stead, such a result usually indicates a smaller drop in perceived discrimination
for one group (say, liberals) compared to another (say, conservatives). We can
demonstrate this by holding other variables at their means and calculating the
expected value of perceived discrimination for low versus high values of any
given dimension.
The first column of table 2 tests factors relevant to the motivated-reasoning
hypothesis: racial resentment, party identification, and ideology. The expected
5. The full results corresponding to the percent of each social and political group that showed
declines are available from the authors upon request.
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Table 2. Predicting Change in Perceived Racial Discrimination after the
Election of Obama (standard errors in parentheses)
Explanatory Variables
Change in Perceived Racial Discrimination
Motivated
Reasoning
Information
Mass
Emotional
Triggers
Omnibus
Model
Racial resentment .05 .09
(.06) (.05)
Ideology (conservative) .16** .15**
(.06) (.06)
Party Identification (Republican) .02 .03
(.04) (.04)
Political Knowledge .08 .11*
(.05) (.05)
Percent Blacks in County .11 .04
(.11) (.10)
Percent Whites in County .02 .03
(.06) (.06)
Anxiety .15* .16*
(.07) (.07)
Anger .17*** .14*
(.05) (.05)
Sadness .02 .02
(.07) (.07)
Enthusiasm .03 .03
(.06) (.07)
Black .07 .10 .06 .04
(.06) (.06) (.06) (.06)
White .03 .04 .06 .05
(.06) (.05) (.06) (.05)
Hispanic .01 .02 .01 .01
(.07) (.06) (.06) (.06)
Female .01 .03 .01 .03
(.02) (.03) (.05) (.03)
Age .05 .001 .01 .004
(.06) (.05) (.05) (.05)
Education .02 .04 .02 .07
(.08) (.07) (.07) (.07)
Income .03 .04 .06 .03
(.06) (.06) (.06) (.06)
Perceived Discrimination (Wave 1 lag) .39*** .34*** .32*** .39***
(.06) (.05) (.05) (.05)
Constant .27** .10 .10 .30**
(.10) (.09) (.08) (.11)
Adjusted R
2
.21 .19 .20 .26
N 495 502 485 474
N
OTE.The table reports coefficients (standard errors) from OLS regression. The dependent
variable is the change in perceived discrimination between pre- and post-election surveys
(scaled 1 to 1; negative values indicate perceiving less discrimination). All explanatory
variables are scaled to range from 0 to 1 and were measured in the pre-election survey. * p <
.05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001, by two-tailed test.
212 Valentino and Brader
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negative coefficients on prejudice, ideology, and partisanship appear, but only
ideology is significant. Conservatives show much larger drops in perceived dis-
crimination than do liberals, all else being equal. In fact, when we hold the other
variables in the model at their means, perceived discrimination increased by .03
points on the 0–1 scale among liberals, while dropping .13 points among con-
servatives. The effects of racial resentment and partisanship are not significant,
indicating roughly equal declines across racially liberal and conservative
respondents, and across Democrats and Republicans.
The second column presents coefficients relevant to the informational mass
citizens hold about racial discrimination. We expected beliefs to change less
among those with more political knowledge and those from more racially het-
erogeneous neighborhoods, who might have more information and thus poten-
tially stronger beliefs about the extent of racial discrimination. The hypothesis
receives little support here. Neither racial context (i.e., percent of blacks or
whites in the county) nor political knowledge significantly moderates the size
of declines in perceived discrimination, though the coefficients are in the
expected direction.
The third column of table 2 tests whether specific emotions prior to the
election moderated the size of the declines in perceived discrimination. We
expected anger to lead individuals to disregard new information and stick to
their original views, while anxiety would make them more open to changing
their minds. This is what we find. When we hold all other variables at their
means and vary the emotion variables one at a time from their lowest to highest
values, we find the following pattern: For the least anxious, perceptions of
discrimination increase slightly, .02 points, while perceptions of discrimination
among the most anxious drop .13 points. Anger has the opposite effect when all
other variables are held at their means: For the least angry, perceptions of dis-
crimination decline .15 points. Among the most angry, perceptions of discrim-
ination increase .02 points. Neither enthusiasm nor sadness significantly
moderates changes in these perceptions.
Although self-reported anger and anxiety about ‘‘how things are going these
days’’ were highly and positively correlated (r ¼ .65), 11 percent of the sample
simultaneously reported high levels of anger and low levels of anxiety. Another
6 percent reported high levels of anxiety and low levels of anger. In other words,
some citizens were experiencing distinct negative emotions before the election.
When we set anger to the highest quartile of the sample (.75 on the 0–1 scale)
while setting anxiety at its lowest quartile value (.33), there is no change in
perceived discrimination. Among those in the highest quartile of anxiety
(.65) but in the lowest quartile of anger (.33), the decline in perceived discrim-
ination is substantial (.11).
The final column of table 2 combines all models to ensure, for example, that
the effects of emotions are not simply artifacts of the omitted variables, or medi-
ators of the effects from attitudes and attributes observed in the other models.
The results suggest that the effects of emotions are independent. Anger and
Perceptions of Discrimination after Obama 213
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anxiety are largely unchanged by the addition of the political predispositions
into the model. The impacts of ideology, political awareness, and racial resent-
ment are in the same direction as before and of roughly the same magnitude.
The effect of racial resentment approaches significance (p < .10). Those at the
high end of racial resentment experienced a .08-point decline in perceived
discrimination, while perceptions among those at the low end of the scale
did not change.
In addition, in the omnibus model, the moderating effect of knowledge is
statistically significant and in the expected direction: Those high in political
knowledge registered significantly smaller declines (.01 points) compared to
those low in political knowledge (.12 points). In summary, the full model indi-
cates that declines in perceived discrimination were moderated by ideology,
knowledge, and negative emotions. Thus, we find some support for each of
the hypotheses posited at the beginning: motivated reasoning, information
mass, and emotional triggers.
The Impact of Changing Perceptions on Racial Atti tudes and
Policy Opinions
Finally, we explored the link between changes in perceived discrimination and
racial attitudes and policy opinions. We did not expect large changes in racial
attitudes because they are acquired early in life and remain stable in adulthood
(Kinder and Sears 1981) and because of the brief period between surveys.
We examined three measures of racial attitudes: racial resentment, feeling-
thermometer ratings of blacks, and the difference between the white and black
feeling thermometers. Each model regresses pre-election to post-election
change in the racial attitude on change in perceived discrimination. We control
for the lagged racial attitude measure, ideology, party identification, political
knowledge, egalitarianism, individualism, support for limited government,
race, sex, age, education, and income. Table 3 shows these results.
In the first column, racial resentment increases modestly but significantly for
subjects who perceived a decline in racial discrimination. The second column
reveals a similar link with changes in the black feeling thermometer. Those who
perceived lower levels of discrimination after the election held significantly
more negative affect toward blacks. When we hold other variables at their
means, this effect translates to a 2-point drop in the black feeling thermometer
for those who perceived lower levels of discrimination. Those who perceived no
change in discrimination after the election actually had slightly higher affect
toward blacks (þ2 points). The third column of table 3 indicates that the
gap between the feeling thermometers for whites and blacks grew significantly
(in favor of whites) among those who perceived less discrimination after the
election. The pre-election gap between white and black thermometers was
about 7 points. Among those who perceived a decline in discrimination, this
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Table 3. Predicting Change in Racial Attitudes after the Election of
Obama (standard errors in parentheses)
Explanatory Variables
Change in
Racial
Resentment
Change in
Black Affect
Change in Relative
White-Black
Affect
Change in Perceived .08* .11* .13**
Discrimination (.04) (.06) (.05)
Ideology (conservative) .03 .02 .00
(.05) (.08) (.05)
Party Identification .02 .06 .03
(Republican) (.03) (.05) (.05)
Political Knowledge .03 .03 .05
(.04) (.06) (.05)
Egalitarianism .08* .07 .07*
(.04) (.04) (.03)
Individualism .01 .02 .07***
(.03) (.03) (.02)
Small Government Value .00 .09** .07**
(.02) (.03) (.03)
Black .09 .17** .12
(.05) (.07) (.07)
White .00 .04 .01
(.03) (.05) (.05)
Hispanic .02 .13* .08
(.04) (.06) (.06)
Female .03 .03 .02
(.02) (.02) (.02)
Age .08* .03 .03
(.04) (.07) (.05)
Education .08 .25** .00
(.06) (.09) (.06)
Income .04 .21** .00
(.05) (.07) (.05)
Lagged Dependent Variable .28*** .42*** .55***
(.04) (.05) (.07)
Constant .25*** .20* .07
(.08) (.10) (.09)
Adjusted R
2
.18 .31 .45
N 481 404 404
NOTE.The table reports coefficients (standard errors) from OLS regression. The dependent
variables are change scores between pre- and post-election surveys (theoretical range of 1to1for
columns 1–2, and 2 to 2 for column 3). All explanatory variables are scaled to range from 0 to
1, and all except the values were measured in the pre-election survey. * p < .05; ** p < .01;
*** p < .001, by two-tailed test.
Perceptions of Discrimination after Obama 215
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gap grew to 10 points, while it shrank slightly to 6 points among those who did
not. In other words, those who saw less discrimination after the election also had
slightly cooler feelings about blacks relative to whites.
Finally, we explored the link between declines in perceived discrimination
and opinions in four racialized policy domains: affirmative action, immigration,
welfare, and the death penalty.
6
Table 4 displays the results from regressing pre-
election to post-election change in policy preferences on changes in perceived
discrimination. The models also control for the lagged policy attitude measure,
racial resentment, ideology, party identification, political knowledge, political
values, race, sex, age, education, and income.
Changing perceptions of discrimination affected some policy opinions but
not others. Specifically, perceiving less discrimination predicted modest but
significant increases in opposition to affirmative action. Declining perceptions
of discrimination also boosted opposition to immigration, a policy closely
linked to racial and ethnic attitudes for many Americans (Kinder and Kam
2009; Valentino, Brader, and Jardina 2010). Although research has documented
the racialized nature of attitudes toward welfare (Gilens 1996) and the death
penalty (Peffley and Hurwitz forthcoming), changing perceptions of racial
discrimination in 2008 did not significantly alter these opinions.
Conclusions
The election of Barack Obama in 2008 triggered substantial changes across
a wide variety of social groups in perceptions of racial discrimination in
America. Across race, gender, age, and income, Americans seem to have taken
the election of an African American president as a sign that the country has
moved significantly away from its racist past. We explored three distinct
but non-mutually exclusive explanations for these declines: motivated reason-
ing, informational mass, and emotional triggers.
We found some support for each of these hypotheses. Those with high levels
of political knowledge adjusted their perceptions less than those with less
awareness of the political world. For such individuals, Obama’s election did
not serve as a proportionally large datum on which to base their judgment about
the prevalence of discrimination in America. This effect remains even after
ideologically motivated explanations for racial perceptions are considered.
On the other hand, neighborhood racial context, another potential source of
direct information about discrimination, had no effect on these changes.
6. By ‘racialized,’ we mean there is a strong link between policy opinions and racial attitudes in the
pre-election survey. Racial resentment is correlated with opposition to affirmative action for blacks
(r ¼ .60), immigration (r ¼ .31), and welfare (r ¼ .46), as well as support for the death penalty (r ¼
.41). These relationships survive controls for partisanship and ideology. There is no significant re-
lationship between racial resentment and non-racial policy opinions. We found no significant
change in opinions on these non-racial policies after the election.
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Table 4. Predicting Change in Policy Preferences after the Election of
Obama (standard errors in parentheses)
Explanatory
Variables
Change in
Opposition to
Affirm. Action
Change in
Opposition to
Immigration
Change in
Opposition to
Welfare
Change in
Support for the
Death Penalty
Change in Perceived .11** .12* .06 .07
Discrimination (.05) (.06) (.06) (.07)
Racial resentment .35*** .09 .05 .09
(.07) (.05) (.07) (.08)
Ideology .05 .10 .05 .02
(conservative) (.05) (.06) (.06) (.08)
Party Identification .04 .03 .06 .08
(Rep.) (.04) (.04) (.06) (.05)
Political Knowledge .03 .03 .02 .02
(.05) (.04) (.05) (.04)
Egalitarianism .08* .06 .09 .07
(.04) (.04) (.04) (.05)
Individualism .00 .00 .11** .00
(.02) (.02) (.03) (.04)
Small Government .03 .01 .01 .02
Value (.02) (.02) (.03) (.04)
Black .01 .01 .03 .07
(.06) (.05) (.06) (.08)
White .04 .02 .06 .01
(.04) (.04) (.05) (.04)
Hispanic .01 .05 .09 .06
(.05) (.05) (.06) (.07)
Female .04 .03 .02 .03
(.04) (.02) (.02) (.03)
Age .04 .03 .00 .05
(.05) (.04) (.06) (.09)
Education .02 .13* .13 .03
(.07) (.06) (.08) (.10)
Income .05 .00 .09 .03
(.05) (.04) (.06) (.07)
Lagged Dependent .56*** .24*** .44*** .27***
Variable (.06) (.04) (.05) (.06)
Constant .01 .05 .02 .00
(.09) (.09) (.09) (.04)
Adjusted R
2
.34 .19 .29 .20
N 483 479 480 475
N
OTE.The table reports coefficients (standard errors) from OLS regression. The dependent
variables are change scores between pre- and post-election surveys (theoretical range of 1
to 1). All explanatory variables are scaled to range from 0 to 1, and all except the values were
measured in the pre-election survey. * p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001, by two-tailed test.
Perceptions of Discrimination after Obama 217
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In terms of attitudinal predispositions, perceptual shifts were shown to be
significantly larger among conservatives, but at best only modestly larger
among the racially resentful in the omnibus model. This provides the most
support for the argument that changes in beliefs about discrimination may
be driven by a desire to justify previous opposition to redistributive policies.
In general, however, these effects were quite modest relative to the general
pattern of change across groups. Americans of all backgrounds, party affilia-
tions, and racial groups reduced their estimates of racial discrimination further
than would be expected by regression to the mean. Consistently significant
percentages (usually in the 20- to 25-percent range) of most political, racial,
and SES groups experienced such declines.
In addition, we found support for hypotheses about the impact of specific
negative emotions on information processing and updating of beliefs. Anxiety
before the election was linked to large drops in perceived discrimination as
a result of Obama’s victory. Anger, enthusiasm, and sadness led to very small
changes in perceptions of discrimination, while holding other factors constant.
These emotional moderators hold even when we control for many of the indi-
vidual predispositions (partisanship, ideology, education, etc.) that might
produce different emotional reactions before the election. Angry liberals, like
angry conservatives, exhibited very small changes in perceptions. Anxious citi-
zens, regardless of their partisanship or ideology, were much more likely to
perceive less discrimination after the election. Needless to say, these results
could lead to potentially fruitful debates about the normative implications of
powerful emotions in politics. Anxiety may trigger a more open-minded
approach to new information, and thus facilitate belief change, but such changes
will be adaptive only to the degree that the information is valid. Obama’s elec-
tion may have been a symbolic victory in the long struggle for political equality
for blacks in America, but whether it indicated a fundamental shift in racial
animosities or conflict is another matter. In any case, further research is needed
to pursue the role of emotional reactions in changing perceptions about the
nature and severity of group conflict, inequality, and discrimination in America
and around the world.
Since perceived discrimination plays such an important role in the measure-
ment of racial resentment, it is not surprising to find that those who perceived
less discrimination after the election scored slightly higher on this measure. If
Obama’s election did indeed serve as evidence that we have come further than
many had thought, it also had the ironic effect of boosting estimates of racial
resentment. Future work should address this important question. When racial
progress is made, and perceived, by many Americans from a variety of racial
backgrounds, it is counterintuitive that racism should automatically increase.
Still, the fact that the election also heightened negative affect toward blacks
suggests that there is something here beyond a measurement artifact. Seeing
racial barriers fall may have suggested to some that prior claims of discrimi-
nation were unwarranted, thus lowering evaluations of the group. Finally, as
218 Valentino and Brader
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perceptions of discrimination decline, whites also may come to be viewed more
positively since they did not vote so overwhelmingly against the black candi-
date so as to block his election. As a result, perhaps, those who perceived less
discrimination after the election were also slightly less supportive of affirmative
action.
If citizens are moving increasingly toward the belief that America is a ‘post-
racial’ society, we might expect decreased support for policies explicitly
designed to address persistent racial disparities of the sort identified by the Ur-
ban League in a recent report.
7
On the other hand, Obama’s presidency could,
over time, lead Americans to fundamentally question and revise their own
negative stereotypes. As the idea of a black president is normalized, negative
racial attitudes may soften around the nation, as has been the case in cities after
the election of black mayors (Hajnal 2001). Of course, while the short interval
between waves of our panel survey strengthens our confidence that Obama’s
victory and attendant public reflection on its meaning caused changes in racial
views, it offers us little perspective on how these changes relate to longer trends
in public perceptions. There was plenty of speculation that Obama’s candidacy,
his rise to frontrunner status in the Democratic nomination contest, and his
strong popularity entering the general election were already reflecting and
perhaps further catalyzing changes in the racial outlook of Americans. It is also
not hard to imagine that such trends could be amplified or reversed by the
performance and events of an Obama presidency.
Although polling on perceptions of discrimination has been limited, an
examination of questions closely matching or similar to those asked in our panel
study provides some perspective. Figure 1 shows results from our panel study
and three polls conducted earlier in the decade that asked similar questions
about the amount of discrimination faced by blacks. In the polls appearing
between 2000 and 2005, roughly 75 to 80 percent of Americans said that blacks
faced more than ‘a little’ discrimination. Thus, by the time we reach the first
wave of the panel in October 2008, a drop of 15 to 20 percentage points may
have already occurred. Our finding of an additional 10-percentage-point drop
after the election may thus be part of more substantial changes already under-
way during Obama’s candidacy.
Figure 2 offers a tighter focus on trends in 2008 and 2009, albeit from
a somewhat different question asking ‘how serious’ the problem of racial
discrimination is. In the first half of 2008, the perceived seriousness of racial
discrimination held steady, with 63 percent of Americans saying it was
a ‘‘very’’ or ‘somewhat’’ serious problem, compared to only 32 to 36 percent
who said it was ‘not too’’ or ‘‘not at all’’ serious. Once again, the gap during
the presidential nomination contests is 10 to 15 percentage points narrower
than that observed several years earlier. We again cannot say exactly when the
7. ‘Report Sees ÔSobering StatisticsÕ on Racial Inequality’ (CNN, March 25, 2009).
Perceptions of Discrimination after Obama 219
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decline in perceived seriousness began, but one possibility is that Obama’s
surprising caucus victory in the nearly all-white state of Iowa was pivotal.
8
Consistent with our own ndings, polls show the gap further collapsing in the
days immediately following Obama’s election (November 6–9).
Figure 2 also provides us with a glimpse at trends beyond the election. A poll
carried out in May 2009 shows a partial reversal of the trend we observe, with
small increases in perceived discrimination compared to the immediate post-
election measure.
In July 2010, however, perceptions of discrimination again declined
slightly, suggesting that post-election perceptions may be stably lower than
before 2008. Future research will be necessary to track the longevity of any
changes caused by the election of Barack Obama, as well as any further
changes triggered by his presidency. Still, the results reported here suggest
that historic racial milestones, and the positive shifts in perceptions of racism
Figure 1. Percentage Believing Blacks Face More Than ‘A Little’ Dis-
crimination, American Respondents, 2000–2008. Data come from our panel
study (2008) and three polls conducted earlier in the decade by other survey
organizations (2000–2005), hence minor differences exist in population sam-
ples and in question wording. See appendix B.
8. The January 2008 CNN poll was conducted two weeks after Obama’s first-place showing in the
Iowa caucuses, which led off the nomination contests.
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they trigger, can simultaneously reduce the public’s motivation to pursue
affirmative action policies.
Appendix A
We measured emotions with an item that asked, ‘[g]enerally speaking, how
do you feel about the way things are going in the country these days? Please
tell us how much you feel each of the following emotions.’ Respondents
reported whether they felt each emotion extremely, very, somewhat, a little,
or not at all. They repeated this for 12 emotions, including alarmed, hopeful,
angry, sad, proud, afraid, excited, disgusted, depressed, happy, nervous, and
outraged. Each item was recoded to run from 0 to 1, where 0 means ‘not at
all’ and 1 means ‘extremely.’
We measured racial attitudes using two items of the racial resentment scale
that has appeared on the ANES. Respondents were asked to rate their level of
agreement with the following statements: ‘‘Over the past few years, blacks have
gotten less than they deserve’ and ‘Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other
minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do
Figure 2. Responses to ‘How Serious the Problem of Racial Discrimina-
tion Is, American Resp ondents, 1996–2010. Data come from eight polls con-
ducted earlier over the past decade and a half (1996–2010) by multiple survey
organizations, hence minor differences exist in population samples and in ques-
tion wording. See appendix B.
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the same without any special favors.’’ Response options were presented on a 5-
point scale ranging from ‘agree strongly’ to ‘disagree strongly.’ The two
items were summed in an additive scale, with the first question reverse coded,
so that high levels indicate greater racial resentment (a ¼ .68). Ideology was
measured with the standard 7-point liberal-conservative scale. Partisan identi-
fication was measured with the standard 7-point ANES composite scale. We
also used the standard feeling-thermometer scales for blacks and whites:
‘We’d like to get your feelings about several different groups in society.
We’d like you to rate these groups using something we call the feeling ther-
mometer. Ratings between 50 degrees and 100 degrees mean that you feel
favorable and warm toward the group. Ratings between 0 degrees and 50
degrees mean that you don’t feel favorable toward the group and that you don’t
care too much for that group. You would rate the group at the 50-degree mark if
you don’t feel particularly warm or cold toward the group. [Groups: (a) Blacks,
(b) Whites, (c) Asians, (d) Hispanics]’
Opposition to affirmative action was measured with the question ‘[s]ome
people say that because of past discrimination, blacks should be given prefer-
ence in hiring and promotion. Others say that such preference in hiring and
promotion of blacks is wrong because it gives blacks advantages they haven’t
earned. What about your opinionare you for or against preferential hiring and
promotion of blacks?’ Respondents reported on a 5-point scale ranging from
‘strongly favor’ to ‘strongly oppose.’ Opposition to immigration was
measured by asking, ‘Do you think the number of immigrants from foreign
countries who are permitted to come to the United States to live should be
[increased a lot/increased a little/left the same as it is now/decreased a little/
decreased a lot]?’ We measured support for the death penalty by self-placement
on a 7-point scale in response to this question: ‘Some people strongly favor the
death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Other people strongly oppose
the death penalty for persons convicted of murder. Where would you place
yourself on this scale?’ Finally, opposition to welfare was tapped by another
7-point scale that read as follows: ‘Some people feel the government in Wash-
ington should spend less on welfare programs for the poor. These people are at
point 1 of the scale. Others think the government in Washington should increase
spending on welfare programs for the poor. These people are at point 7 of the
scale. Where would you place yourself on this scale?’
We measured political ideology using the standard 7-point scale: ‘We hear
a lot of talk these days about liberals and conservatives. Here is a 7-point scale
on which the political views that people might hold are arranged from extremely
liberal to extremely conservative. Where would you place yourself on this scale
(or haven’t you thought much about this)?’ Political knowledge is measured via
a standard 4-item scale. The pre-election survey asked respondents to name the
job or office held by three public figures (Dick Cheney, John Roberts, and
Condoleeza Rice) as well as a multiple-choice question about which party
has a majority in Congress (Democrats, Republicans, or neither). Respondents
222 Valentino and Brader
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were required to enter their responses within 30 seconds in order to reduce the
likelihood that they would look up the correct answers. The resulting scale splits
the sample almost perfectly at the midpoint.
Egalitarianism is measured with a 5-point Likert scale, in which respond-
ents indicate their agreement or disagreement with the statement ‘‘We have
gone too far in pushing equal rights in this country.’’ Individualism is mea-
sured by asking respondents to pick which forced-choice option comes clos-
est to their view: ‘‘people should take care of themselves and their families
and let others do the same’ or ‘people should care less about their own
success and more about the needs of society.’ Support for limited govern-
ment is measured by asking respondents whether ‘‘the less government the
better’ or ‘there are more things the government should be doing’ comes
closer to their view.
Appendix B. Sources of Poll Data in Figures 1 and 2
Figure 1 presents data from both waves of our panel survey (described in
the text) and data from three additional polls, obtained through the iPoll
Databank, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the Univer-
sity of Connecticut (Storrs, CT). These polls include:
Survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates for the
National Conference for Community and Justice (January 20–March
19, 2000; telephone interviews; national adult population; n ¼ 2,584)
Survey conducted by Yankelovich Partners, Inc., for the Committee of 100
(March 1–14, 2001; telephone interviews; national adult population; n ¼
1,216)
Survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates for the Na-
tional Conference for Community and Justice (January 13–March 30,
2005; telephone interviews; national adult population; n ¼ 2,558)
Figure 2 presents data from eight polls obtained through the iPoll
Databank, the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the Univer-
sity of Connecticut (Storrs, CT). The polls include:
Survey conducted by Gallup Organization for Cable News Network and
USA Today (July 18–21, 1996; telephone interviews; national adult pop-
ulation; n ¼ 1,010)
Survey conducted by Gallup Organization for Cable News Network and
USA Today (August 5–7, 1996; telephone interviews; national adult pop-
ulation; n ¼ 1,179)
Survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Cable News
Network (January 14–17, 2008; telephone interviews; national adult pop-
ulation; n ¼ 1,393)
Perceptions of Discrimination after Obama 223
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Survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Cable News
Network and Essence Magazine (March 26–April 2, 2008; telephone inter-
views; national adult population; n ¼ 2,184)
Survey conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates for Pew
Research Center (June 16–July 16, 2008; telephone interviews; national
adult population; n ¼ 2,250)
Survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Cable News
Network (November 6–9, 2008; telephone interviews; national adult pop-
ulation; n ¼ 1,246)
Survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Cable News
Network and Essence Magazine (May 16–18, 2009; telephone interviews;
national adult population; n ¼ 1,073)
Survey conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Cable News
Network (July 16–21, 2010; telephone interviews; national adult popula-
tion; n ¼ 1,018).
Supplementary Data
Supplementary data are freely available online at http://poq.oxfordjournals.
org/.
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... Cross-sectional research indeed shows that after (vs. before) the election of Barack Obama, US Americans perceived significantly less racial discrimination in society [13] and less need for further racial progress [14]. They also supported policies addressing racial inequality significantly less [14] and exhibited greater animosity toward African Americans [13]. ...
... before) the election of Barack Obama, US Americans perceived significantly less racial discrimination in society [13] and less need for further racial progress [14]. They also supported policies addressing racial inequality significantly less [14] and exhibited greater animosity toward African Americans [13]. Moreover, experimental research shows that making Barack Obama salient leads people to exhibit greater symbolic racism [12] and implicit racial bias [15], as well as to deny the validity of tests suggesting they may be prone to subtle racial bias [12]. ...
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Thesis
This project examines the understudied, but prevalent, phenomenon of white racial sympathy for blacks in American politics. Reversing course from a long tradition of studying racial antipathy, I argue that racial sympathy, which I define as white distress over black misfortune, shapes public opinion among a subset of white Americans. In Chapter 1, I introduce the project and provide an overview of the dissertation’s organization. Chapter 2 begins with a summary of the relevant racial attitudes literature, laying the foundation for the theory of racial sympathy. In Chapter 3, I describe the qualitative exploratory research I conducted to form an original measure of racial sympathy, the racial sympathy index. I examine the properties of the index, including its convergent validity. In Chapter 4, I explore the relationship between racial sympathy and public opinion using four national samples. These analyses reveal that racial sympathy is consistently and significantly associated with support for public policies perceived to benefit African Americans, while accounting for measures of principles and prejudice. Additionally, racial sympathy is distinct from a general social sympathy, as it does not influence policy opinion related to other groups, such as women. The concept is tightly associated with race; as evidence of this, I find that racial sympathy is activated when the suffering of African Americans is made salient, a phenomena I explore through a series of experiments in the dissertation’s fifth chapter. In Chapter 6, I argue that racial sympathy enhances our understanding of the complexity of intergroup relations. Here I suggest that sympathy has the potential to motivate a variety of political opinions and behavior. I also discuss the limits to its reach. Overall, the project is a companion to the rich literature in political science on racial prejudice. The dissertation demonstrates the multifaceted role of race in American politics and public opinion.
... esim. Valentino ja Brader 2011). ...
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Recent work finds that the sense of solidarity some whites feel with their racial group is strongly associated with their political attitudes, particularly since the election of Barack Obama. Prior work has also noted that levels of this identity have been stable across time and data sources. We, however, document a notable decline in levels of white identity in both panel and cross‐sectional national survey data immediately after the 2016 presidential election. Using a two‐wave panel design, we examine the factors associated with this decline. We examine whether particular emotional reactions, especially disgust toward Donald Trump, pushed some whites away from their racial identity. We also consider the possibility that some whites may have felt that Trump's election reduced perceptions of racial or political threat, therefore lowering levels of white identity. We find the strongest support for the former hypothesis; the decline in white identity was driven mostly by whites expressing disgust toward Trump. Our results highlight the effect that the political environment can have on group identities and point in particular to the significant role that disgust may play in attenuating the strength of group solidarity.
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Why do White Americans perceive less racism than Black Americans? Two provocative studies on the Marley Hypothesis suggest that White Americans are more ignorant of historical instances of racism than Black Americans and that ignorance of history mediates racial differences in perceptions of racism (Nelson, Adams, & Salter, 2013; Bonam, Das, Coleman, & Salter, 2018). We conducted 2 replications of the Marley Hypothesis in a different institutional and regional context than prior studies. In contrast with prior findings, the difference between White and Black Americans knowledge of historical racism was not significant in either of our replications and was dramatically smaller than that obtained in prior studies. Thus, the present research failed to replicate the mediation effect found in prior studies. We discuss potential explanations for these discrepant findings (e.g., differences in institution and region) and call for additional research examining whether the Marley Hypothesis is moderated by cultural contexts.
Chapter
Citizens and Politics: Perspectives from Political Psychology brings together some of the research on citizen decision making. It addresses the questions of citizen political competence from different political psychology perspectives. Some of the authors in this volume look to affect and emotions to determine how people reach political judgements, others to human cognition and reasoning. Still others focus on perceptions or basic political attitudes such as political ideology. Several demonstrate the impact of values on policy preferences. The collection features chapters from some of the most talented political scientists in the field.
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In this article, we investigate the interaction of exposure to stereotype reinforcing local crime news and neighborhood racial context on attitudes about race and crime. To date, there has been little research investigating whether neighborhood context mitigates or exacerbates the impact of exposure to racially stereotypic crime news. Based on theories of schema formation and change, we predict that residential proximity should condition more complex, multidimensional views of blacks, such that whites from those areas would be less negatively influenced by black criminal stereotypes on the news. We collected information about the neighborhood racial context for each respondent in an experiment. We then exposed respondents either to racially stereotypic or non-stereotypic crime stories on local news programs. Results support our central hypothesis. When exposed to racial stereotypes in the news, white respondents living in white homogeneous neighborhoods endorsed more punitive policies to address crime, expressed more negative stereotypic evaluations of blacks, and felt more distant from blacks as a group. Whites from heterogeneous neighborhoods were either unaffected or moved in the opposite direction, endorsing less punitive crime policies, less negative stereotypes, and feeling closer to blacks as a group as a result of exposure to the stereotypic coverage.
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How did race affect the election that gave America its first African American president? This book offers some fascinating, and perhaps controversial, findings. Donald R. Kinder and Allison Dale-Riddle assert that racism was in fact an important factor in 2008, and that if not for racism, Barack Obama would have won in a landslide. On the way to this conclusion, they make several other important arguments. In an analysis of the nomination battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton, they show why racial identity matters more in electoral politics than gender identity. Comparing the 2008 election with that of 1960, they find that religion played much the same role in the earlier campaign that race played in '08. And they argue that racial resentment-a modern form of racism that has superseded the old-fashioned biological variety-is a potent political force. © 2012 by Donald R. Kinder and Allison Dale-Riddle. All rights reserved.
Article
Many decisions are based on beliefs concerning the likelihood of uncertain events such as the outcome of an election, the guilt of a defendant, or the future value of the dollar. Occasionally, beliefs concerning uncertain events are expressed in numerical form as odds or subjective probabilities. In general, the heuristics are quite useful, but sometimes they lead to severe and systematic errors. The subjective assessment of probability resembles the subjective assessment of physical quantities such as distance or size. These judgments are all based on data of limited validity, which are processed according to heuristic rules. However, the reliance on this rule leads to systematic errors in the estimation of distance. This chapter describes three heuristics that are employed in making judgments under uncertainty. The first is representativeness, which is usually employed when people are asked to judge the probability that an object or event belongs to a class or event. The second is the availability of instances or scenarios, which is often employed when people are asked to assess the frequency of a class or the plausibility of a particular development, and the third is adjustment from an anchor, which is usually employed in numerical prediction when a relevant value is available.
Article
The abstract for this document is available on CSA Illumina.To view the Abstract, click the Abstract button above the document title.
Book
Part I. From There to Here - Theoretical Background: 1. From visiousness to viciousness: theories of intergroup relations 2. Social dominance theory as a new synthesis Part II. Oppression and its Psycho-Ideological Elements: 3. The psychology of group dominance: social dominance orientation 4. Let's both agree that you're really stupid: the power of consensual ideology Part III. The Circle of Oppression - The Myriad Expressions of Institutional Discrimination: 5. You stay in your part of town and I'll stay in mine: discrimination in the housing and retail markets 6. They're just too lazy to work: discrimination in the labor market 7. They're just mentally and physically unfit: discrimination in education and health care 8. The more of 'them' in prison, the better: institutional terror, social control and the dynamics of the criminal justice system Part IV. Oppression as a Cooperative Game: 9. Social hierarchy and asymmetrical group behavior: social hierarchy and group difference in behavior 10. Sex and power: the intersecting political psychologies of patriarchy and empty-set hierarchy 11. Epilogue.
Chapter
Throughout our history, white Americans have singled out Afro-Americans for particularly racist treatment. Of all the many immigrant nationalities that have come to these shores since the seventeenth century, Afro-Americans have consistently attracted the greatest prejudice based on their group membership and have been treated in the most categorically unequal fashion.
Article
Crime and welfare are now widely viewed as "coded" issues that activate white Americans' negative views of blacks without explicitly raising the "race card." But does the desire of whites to combat crime or curtail welfare really stem from their dislike of blacks? Are these not pressing problems about which Americans rightly should be concerned--apart from any associations these issues may have with race? In this paper I assess the extent to which white Americans' opposition to welfare is rooted in their attitudes toward blacks. Using conventional survey modeling techniques and a randomized survey-based experiment from a national telephone survey, I find that racial attitudes are the single most important influence on whites' welfare views. I also show that whites hold similar views of comparably described black and white welfare mothers, but that negative views of black welfare mothers are more politically potent, generating greater opposition to welfare than comparable views of white welfare mothers.