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When Barack Obama became the “first Black President” of the United States in 2008, researchers examined how his election impacted Americans’ views of racial progress. When he was reelected in 2012, the minority status of the president had become less novel. In the present study, we investigated whether perceptions concerning racial progress varied: (1) before and after President Obama's reelection; (2) by whether President Obama was labeled as biracial or Black; and (3) among White and Black individuals. We replicated past findings to demonstrate that after Obama's reelection, White participants reported that our country had made racial progress and decreased their support for equality programs (e.g., affirmative action). Our results also revealed that labeling President Obama as either biracial or Black did not affect views of racial progress. Additionally, Black participants categorized President Obama as Black more than White participants, while White participants categorized President Obama as White more than Black participants. We discuss these results in terms of the impacts of racial beliefs that stem from exposure to a minority leader.
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Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Vol. 00, No. 0, 2013, pp. 1--15
This paper is part of an ASAP special collection on the Social Psychology of the 2012 US
Presidential Election
Perceiving a Presidency in Black (and White): Four
Years Later
Sarah E. Gaither*
Tufts University
Leigh S. Wilton and Danielle M. Young
Rutgers University
When Barack Obama became the “first Black President” of the United States in
2008, researchers examined how his election impacted Americans’ views of racial
progress. When he was reelected in 2012, the minority status of the president
had become less novel. In the present study, we investigated whether perceptions
concerning racial progress varied: (1) before and after President Obama’s reelec-
tion; (2) by whether President Obama was labeled as biracial or Black; and (3)
among White and Black individuals. We replicated past findings to demonstrate
that after Obama’s reelection, White participants reported that our country had
made racial progress and decreased their support for equality programs (e.g.,
affirmative action). Our results also revealed that labeling President Obama as
either biracial or Black did not affect views of racial progress. Additionally, Black
participants categorized President Obama as Black more than White participants,
while White participants categorized President Obama as White more than Black
participants. We discuss these results in terms of the impacts of racial beliefs that
stem from exposure to a minority leader.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Sarah E. Gaither, De-
partment of Psychology, Tufts University, 490 Boston Avenue, Medford, MA 02155 [e-mail:].
This work was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and a Grant in Aid Award
from SPSSI awarded to Sarah Gaither.
We would like to thank Sam Sommers and Negin Toosi for feedback on previous drafts of this
DOI: 10.1111/asap.12018 C2013 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
2 Gaither, Wilton, and Young
“Tonight is a particular honor for me because, let’s face it, my presence on this stage is
pretty unlikely. . . . My parents shared not only an improbable love. . . . They would give
me an African name, Barack, or ‘blessed,’ believing that in a tolerant America your name
is no barrier to success. . . . I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage . . . ”
—Barack Obama at the 2004 Democratic National Convention
“I recognize that times have changed since I first spoke to this convention. The times have
changed—and so have I. I’m no longer just a candidate. I’m the President.”
—President Barack Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention
The 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections were landmark election years; they
marked the first time that voters voted for and then reelected a president with
Black ancestry. Although Barack Obama has biracial ancestry, he was primarily
described and thought of as Black by both White and Black individuals throughout
the Democratic primaries and the 2008 election. Discussion of Obama’s levels of
“Blackness,” or lack thereof, was part of a larger conversation during the 2008 race
regarding how his election might signify the beginning of a postracial (i.e., without
racial discrimination) society. The 2012 Presidential election again invoked a
number of questions regarding Obama’s race and its impact on society. The present
research revisits findings surrounding the 2008 election to explore whether, four
years after Obama’s first successful presidential election, attitudes associated with
racial progress have remained the same, whether calling attention to Obama’s
biracial ancestry impacts those perceptions, and whether these perceptions vary
between White and Black individuals.
Racial Progress in 2012?
Due to Obama’s racial background, his 2008 election ignited a conversation
about the beginning of a “post-racial America” (e.g., Gallup/USA Today, 2008;
Gomstyn, 2008; Miller, 2008; Peery & Bodenhausen, 2009; Pitts, 2008; Smith,
2009). More specifically, Americans felt having a Black leader was a sign that poli-
cies addressing racial inequalities (i.e., affirmative action) were no longer needed
(Kaiser, Drury, Spalding, Cheryan, & O’Brien, 2009; Valentino & Brader, 2011;
Williams & Negrin, 2008). This nationwide conversation about racial progress was
supported by studies demonstrating that the implicit bias of Whites toward Blacks
decreased following Obama’s first election (e.g., Plant et al., 2009). Furthermore,
opinion polls showed that twice as many Blacks said they felt optimistic about
race relations after, in comparison to before, Obama’s 2008 election (Stolberg &
Connelly, 2009).
Contradictory to these findings, after Obama’s first election, CBS News (2009)
reported that racially motivated incidents, including cross burnings and occur-
rences of children chanting “assassinate Obama,” actually increased across the
nation. Other research also presented evidence that racial prejudice still persisted
and continued to negatively influence perceptions of both Obama and Blacks more
Obama Perceptions Four Years Later 3
generally (Dovidio, Gaertner, Saguy, & Heman, 2011; Kaiser et al., 2009; Schmidt
& Nosek, 2010). Therefore, the views of sweeping racial progress and reduced
racial bias heralded by Obama’s election as the nation’s first Black president were
not entirely accurate.
But four years later, after Obama’s reelection, what is the status of America’s
perceptions of racial progress? Given the mixed reports concerning interracial
relations following Obama’s 2008 election, as well as his prominence in the
American political and cultural scene for the past four years, it is not yet known
whether beliefs about racial progress have continued to change, and in which
direction. For example, continued exposure to the positive exemplar of a Black
president may have directly improved opinions about racial progress, or even
perceptions regarding the strict racial boundaries we utilize within our racially
dichotomized society such as Whites always being leaders. In support of these
possibilities, past instances involving the election of Black mayors have shown that
experiences with a Black leader reduces racial tensions, increases racial sympathy,
and increases support for Black leaders (Hajnal, 2001). Alternatively, although
some of the population still associates the dismal economic situation in the United
States with former President George Bush, the majority of the country largely
blamed this fiscal crisis on Obama during his first term (Killough, 2011), which
could have negatively colored perceptions of both racial progress and voters’
willingness to identify with Obama. Therefore, it is unclear how perceptions
regarding racial progress and Obama may have changed.
Does It Matter if Obama Is Biracial or Black?
Although some attention was drawn to Obama’s biracial ancestry during his
first election (e.g., Arana, 2008; Kristoff, 2008; Malahy, Sedlins, Plaks, & Shoda,
2010), Obama was primarily described and thought of as America’s first Black
President (e.g., Block Jr., 2011; Halberstadt, Sherman, & Sherman, 2011; Squires
& Jackson, 2010). This cultural trend to classify Obama as our nation’s first Black
president is consistent with the prominence of hypodescent in racial categorization
of biracial minorities (i.e., categorizing an individual with any minority ancestry
as such; e.g., Banks & Eberhardt, 1998; Ho, Sidanius, Levin, & Banaji, 2011;
Peery & Bodenhausen, 2008). Nevertheless, racial labels can significantly alter
people’s judgments of others (e.g., Darley & Gross, 1983; Eberhardt, Dasgupta, &
Banaszynski, 2003), change the characteristics that a person thinks apply to a given
target (Hilliar & Kemp, 2008; Levin & Banaji, 2006; Macrae & Bodenhausen,
2000), and shift views about race, racial categories, and racial attitudes (Gaither,
Babbitt, & Sommers, under review; Pauker, Weisbuch, & Ambady, in preparation;
Young, Sanchez & Wilton, in press). For example, previous work has found
that individuals who labeled Obama as Black implicitly perceived race as more
categorical than those who labeled Obama as multiracial (Malahy et al., 2010).
4 Gaither, Wilton, and Young
However, the consequences of labeling Obama as multiracial, such as how his
racial label may impact perceptions of racial progress and racial attitudes more
generally, have not been explored. We argue that since mere exposure to biracial
or minority stimuli of individuals who are complete strangers has caused racial
attitudes and perceptions to change, exposure to a prominent and well-known
political biracial or minority figure such as Obama should lead toward similar
changes regarding race-related political perceptions.
In general, few studies have explicitly measured if and when people willingly
apply biracial or multiracial labels. Perceivers are also less likely to use multiracial
labels (see Chen & Hamilton, 2012), which further limits our ability to predict
how biracial (vs. Black) labels may or may not impact perceptions of Obama.
Moreover, previous work exploring the effects of racial labeling has involved only
biracial individuals who were unknown to participants or computer-generated
(i.e., not even real people; for an exception see Malahy et al., 2010), so we do
not know whether these same effects will apply for biracial individuals who are
readily recognized such as Obama. Thus, it is unclear whether changing the racial
label would affect how either Whites or Blacks perceive Obama’s racial identity,
or issues pertaining to racial progress.
How do Whites and Blacks Perceive Obama?
Beyond the influence of racial labels, person perception is a complex process,
so even if an explicit biracial label does not alter Whites’ and Blacks’ perceptions of
racial progress, there still may be perceiver differences by race regarding opinions
of Obama. Research has shown that Whites are more likely to associate positive
traits with White candidates over Black candidates (Terkildsen, 1993; Williams,
1990), and are often more wary or have more fear of Black than White candi-
dates (Fiske, Bergsieker, Russell, & Williams, 2009; Ford, Johnson, & Maxwell,
2010). Additionally, although Whites with strong egalitarian norms generally will
not make racist or racially charged comments about Blacks (Devos & Banaji,
2005; Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004), around the 2008 election non-Black individ-
uals were more likely to attribute incorrect information to, or associate negative
attitudes with, Obama. For example, McCain (but not Obama) supporters who
were predominately White showed faster reaction times when judging Muslim-
related items if they were primed with Obama’s name but not with McCain’s
name (Kosloff, Greenberg, Schmader, Dechesne, & Weise, 2010), and Whites
with higher levels of implicit prejudice evaluated healthcare plans more nega-
tively when it was associated with Obama versus Bill Clinton (Knowles, Lowery,
& Schaumber, 2010).
While Whites were expressing concern over Obama’s minority status, Blacks
were also debating Obama’s “Blackness” (e.g., McIlwain, 2007; Walters, 2007).
For example, Stanley Crouch, a Black columnist for the New York Daily News,
Obama Perceptions Four Years Later 5
wrote, “Other than color, Obama did not—does not—share a heritage with the
majority of Black Americans, who are descendants of plantation slaves” (Crouch,
2006). Moreover, a CNN poll in April 2007 showed that Hillary Clinton was
favored by Black voters over Obama with 88% of Blacks believing that Clinton
“understands the problems of people like me” while only 77% of Blacks expressed
similar views about Obama (Poll: Presidential Races, 2007). This finding suggests
that Clinton was viewed by Black voters as more attuned to the needs of Black
Americans than Obama, emphasizing the question in some Black voters’ minds
concerning whether Obama was “Black enough” to represent their demographic.
So what do White and Black voters think of Obama’s racial background now?
In comparison to Obama’s first election four years ago, would Blacks be more
inclined to include Obama in their ingroup? Moreover, would Whites be less likely
to perceive Obama strictly as an outgroup member, or would they be more likely
to embrace a shared (i.e., White) ingroup identity? Social identity theory (Hogg,
2005; Tajfel & Turner, 1979, 1986) contends that social group identification is
an important component of the self from which the individual derives value and
an important sense of belonging (Brewer, 1991; Correll & Park, 2005). It further
explains how self-identification with a particular ingroup (i.e., Obama supporter)
significantly affects one’s thoughts and behaviors such as how much we stereotype
and categorize others (Hogg, 2005; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). However, individuals
face a constant tension between a need for social connection and a need for group
distinctiveness in any social group (Brewer, 1991), and an ideal social group is
one that provides social belonging and connection with others but also maintains
clear and distinct boundaries between ingroup and outgroup members (Brewer,
2007). For example, including biracial individuals may meet the need for social
inclusivity and belonging, but excluding biracial individuals highlights that one’s
ingroup is truly distinct. This contention may be heightened for perceivers in the
case of Obama (or any biracial individual), as he straddles racial boundaries.
Interestingly, levels of social identification with an ingroup can also be radi-
cally altered if that particular social identity is seen either as successful or unsuc-
cessful. This tendency, known as BIRGing (Basking in Reflected Glory; Cialdini
et al., 1976), outlines that when a group is successful, people tend to more strongly
identify and claim that social ingroup. For example, recent work showed that after
Obama’s first election, people who supported Obama left their campaign signs up
longer in their yards than those supporting his opponent (Miller, 2009; see also
Boen & Vanbeselaere, 2002). Similarly, past work using the American National
Election Studies data demonstrated that in general, voters of winning candidates
positively increased their ratings of those candidates (Miller, 2006). Furthermore,
immediately following the 2012 election, Obama’s approval and favorability rat-
ings were the highest they had been since 2009 (Holyk, 2013; Reilly, 2013),
suggesting that overall the nation viewed Obama more positively after his suc-
cessful reelection than immediately before when his victory was still in question.
6 Gaither, Wilton, and Young
Therefore, after a successful reelection in 2012, perhaps both White and Black
individuals may want to claim Obama as part of their racial ingroup, showing a
clear shift in the racial boundaries seen within Obama’s presidency.
Overview of Research
The present research examines how perceptions of Obama’s racial back-
ground (i.e., biracial or Black) may affect views of racial progress, how these
views may compare to those from 2008, and whether these outlooks differed both
before and after the 2012 Presidential election. Additionally, since Obama’s racial
background proved to be an influential factor both among White and Black voters
during the 2008 election, we recruited White and Black participants to compare
possible differences in views of Obama based on the racial background of voters.
More specifically, this study investigated the following: (1) Would Obama’s re-
election produce changes in views of racial progress and need for programs such as
affirmative action (e.g., Kaiser et al., 2009)?; (2) Would labeling Obama as either
biracial or Black impact these perceptions?; and (3) After the second successful
election, would participants shift racial categorizations to claim Obama for their
racial ingroup?
A total of 324 participants were recruited via Mechanical Turk in exchange
for a small payment. Participants who failed either the instructional manipulation
check (4%; see Oppenheimer, Meyvis, & Davidenko, 2009) or who failed to
accurately recall information from the article (6%) were removed from analysis.
This left 169 White (91 female) and 121 Black (71 female) participants for analysis.
Of those individuals, 89 White (48 female) and 63 Black (44 female) individuals
completed the survey 1–2 weeks before the election (age range: 18–75, M=34.47,
SD =12.35) and reported the following political affiliations: 90 Democrat, 26
Republican, 22 unaffiliated, 13 other, and 1 not sure. Approximately 1–2 weeks
after the election, 80 White (43 female) and 58 Black (27 female) individuals
completed the survey (age range: 18–71, M=33.42, SD =12.34) and reported
the following political affiliations: 76 Democrat, 22 Republican, 25 unaffiliated,
14 other, and 1 not sure preelection.
Participants thought the study was examining the role of online media com-
munication in the presidential election and were told they would read an excerpt
Obama Perceptions Four Years Later 7
of a recent article from an online source and then answer questions about the
presidential election and their personal beliefs. In order to assess whether la-
beling Obama as either Black or biracial affected racial perceptions, upon pro-
viding informed consent, participants were randomly assigned to one of three
conditions. Participants either read an article that described President Obama
as African American, an article that described President Obama as Biracial
Black/White, or they read a control article about global warming that did not
include any mention of Obama. Each of the two articles that manipulated Presi-
dent Obama’s racial identity mentioned his racial identity twice (e.g., “he is the
first African American [Biracial Black/White] president to hold office”), as well
as described his personal background (e.g., that he was born in Honolulu, Hawaii,
and graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School) and outcomes
of his prior political elections (e.g., that he served three terms representing the
13th District in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004). Politically polarizing or
controversial aspects of his presidency (e.g., recent support for marriage equality)
were not mentioned. All articles were matched on word length and tone. Partici-
pants were asked to recall the racial background that the article described Obama
as, and participants failing this manipulation check were excluded from analyses.
After reading the online article, participants completed all of the measures
described below at either 10 or fewer days prior to the 2012 presidential election or
10 or more days following this election to examine whether after Obama’s second
victory caused voters to shift their focus on how far we have come in relation to
racial progress (Eibach & Ehrlinger, 2006). Lastly, participants were also asked
to racially categorize Obama as both White and Black so that we could measure
whether White or Black participants claimed Obama as more of a member of their
racial ingroup (vs. outgroup) both before and after his second election. Thus, the
study employed a 3 (condition: Black, Biracial, Control) ×2(time: preelection,
postelection) between subjects design. Finally, participants were fully debriefed
and thanked for participating.
Unless otherwise noted, all measures were completed on a scale of 1 (strongly
disagree)to7(strongly disagree).
U.S. racial progress (α=.68). To determine if participants felt both during
and after Obama’s second election that the United States had made more racial
progress, we measured participants’ views on the current levels of racial progress
and their perceived need for further racial progress in the United States using six-
items from Kaiser et al. (2009). Example items included, “Since the Civil Rights
Movement of the 1960s, great progress has been made toward racial equality in
the United States.”
8 Gaither, Wilton, and Young
Tab le 1. Descriptive Statistics and Correlations
All participants M(SD) 1 234
1. U.S. racial progress 4.19 (.98)
3. ATAA 4.81 (1.58) –0.47** 0.77** –
4. Black categorization 5.37 (1.52) –0.09 0.21** 0.16**
5. White categorization 2.28 (1.40) 0.03 0.07 0.10 –0.13*
Note.*p.05, **p<.01.
Racial equality policy support (α=.89). Relatedly, to measure racial policy
support and whether these varied based on condition or pre-/postelection times,
participants completed Kaiser et al.’s (2009) four-item measure of support for
policies to increase racial equality, with items such as, “Businesses should increase
their efforts to promote diversity in the workplace” and “Efforts should be made
to promote equal access to healthcare for minorities.”
Attitudes toward affirmative action (ATAA; α=.85). To measure attitudes
and endorsement of affirmative action policies since the 2012 election was again
involving a racial minority candidate, we administered four items from Kravitz
and Platania’s (1993) ATAA scales including statements to measure affirmative
action beliefs such as “The goals of affirmative action are good.”
Racial categorization. Lastly, to measure how both White and Black partic-
ipants racially viewed or categorized Obama to see if participants’ inclusion of
Obama as a member of their racial ingroup varied based on pre- and postelec-
tion times, we used a scale adapted from Sanchez, Good, and Chavez (2011), to
measure participants’ racial categorization of Obama across four questions asking
participants to indicate the extent to which they categorized Obama as Black (two
items, α=.93) and as White (two items, α=.89).
See Table 1 for overall means, standard deviations, and correlations of all
dependent variables. All analyses, unless otherwise stated, were conducted using
individual 2 (race) ×2 (time) ×3 (condition) ANOVAs on all study dependent
Perceptions of Racial Progress and Equality around the 2012 Election
U.S. racial progress. The three-way ANOVA on racial progress revealed
significant main effects for both participant race, F(1, 291) =25.80, p<.001,
η2partial =.08, and time, F(1, 291) =5.09, p=.03, η2partial =.02. Black participants
Obama Perceptions Four Years Later 9
saw less racial progress (M=3.89, SD =.79) than White participants (M=4.44,
SD =1.05), and participants at Time 2 believed there was more racial progress
(M=4.29, SD =.98) than those at Time 1 (M=4.04, SD =.96). No other main
effects or interactions approached significance, all Fs<2.06, all ps>.10.
Racial equality policy support. There was a significant main effect of partic-
ipant race such that Black participants expressed more need for equality support
(M=5.41, SD =1.45) than White participants (M=4.33, SD =1.61), F(1, 287)
=35.31, p<.001, η2partial =.11. There was also a marginal effect of time, F(1,
287) =2.80, p=.10, η2partial =.01; support for equality policies decreased from
Time1(M=5.02, SD =1.61) to Time 2 (M=4.72, SD =1.65). No other main
effects or interactions approached significance, all Fs<1.56, all ps>.20.
ATAA. There were significant main effects for both race of participant, F(1,
287) =26.72, p<.001, η2partial =.09, and time, F(1, 287) =5.58, p=.02, η2partial
=.02. Black participants had more support for affirmative action (M=5.31, SD
=1.34) than White participants (M=4.40, SD =1.64). However, regardless of
race, there was less support for affirmative action at Time 2 (M=4.65, SD =
1.67) than Time 1 (M=5.07, SD =1.46). No other main effects or interactions
approached significance, all Fs<1, all ps>.30.
Racial Perceptions of Obama
Racial categorization. The three-way ANOVA found no significant main
effect of, or interaction with, racial label condition on racial categorization of
Obama as either Black or White, all F’s <2.06, all ps>.28. These null results
suggest that the racial label assigned to Obama does not impact participants’ race-
related perceptions, but our sample size may have precluded a sensitive test of this
Ingroup categorization. To examine whether participants’ racial categoriza-
tion of Obama varied depending on their race or time relative to the election, we
conducted a mixed model 2 (Participant race) ×2(Time)×3 (Condition) ×
2 (Racial categorization: White and Black) mixed-model ANOVA. A significant
main effect of racial categorization, F(1, 292) =610.50, p<.001, η2partial =.68,
was qualified by a two-way interaction between race and racial categorization,
F(1, 292) =8.86, p=.003, η2partial =.03. Follow-up analyses demonstrated that
Black participants perceived Obama as more Black (M=5.62, SD =1.65) than
White participants (M=5.16, SD =1.39), F(1, 292) =6.81, p=.01, η2partial =
.02. Similarly, White participants viewed Obama as more White (M=2.40, SD
=1.14) than Black participants (M=2.21, SD =1.38), though this effect was
marginal, F(1, 292) =3.29, p=.07, η2partial =.01. Overall, these results suggest
10 Gaither, Wilton, and Young
that White and Black perceivers alike included Obama within their respective
racial ingroups.
Our results replicate those from Obama’s first election in that both White and
Black voters perceived the election of Obama in 2012 to be a sign of increased
racial progress while simultaneously serving as a signal for a reduced need for
programs designed to address racial inequalities such as affirmative action. Our
findings also show four years later, that the belief persists that having a minority
president offsets other pervasive racial disparities that exist in our country. That
being said, that a country rife with racial tension reelected a Black president is
symbolic enough to represent racial progress in some form.
Additionally, our results demonstrate that perceptions of Obama do not differ
when he is labeled as either Biracial or Black. In contrast to previous research
demonstrating the impact of biracial labels, categorizations of Obama in the present
study did not shift in concordance with his racial label, revealing that racial labels
do not always affect racial perceptions. Though previous work has demonstrated
that labels affect expectancies of minority targets (Young et al., in press), these
effects have only been shown with novel and unknown individuals. As Obama is
not an unknown target, expectancies may not apply in the same manner. Therefore,
we suggest that this result demonstrates an important limitation regarding the effect
a racial label can have in social perception, while also serving as a significant
contribution toward the efforts in fully exploring the effects of multiracial labels.
Since previous research on label effects have found small effect sizes (η2.1)
associated with these label effects, future work should recruit a larger sample to
more sensitively test this hypothesis and to explore the boundary effects linked
with social labeling and multiracial perceptions.
Most interestingly, despite seeing Obama generally as a “Black” president,
our results suggest that both Whites and Blacks have shifted their own racial
categorization of Obama in concordance with their respective racial ingroups.
This unique finding could be due in part to several reconcilable theories. First,
exposure to Obama as a positive exemplar of a racial minority who was elected
to a position strongly associated with Whites may have served as a bridge across
the majority and minority racial divide. Supporting this theory, recent work argues
that positive exposure to a counter-stereotypic group member can alter implicit
attitudes about race (Conrey, Sherman, Gawronski, Hugenberg, & Groom, 2005;
Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006; Plant et al., 2009). Such research suggests
that exposure to Obama through various media outlets which highlight positive
qualities, such as being well-educated, motivated, successful, and well-spoken,
could aid in combating the negative stereotypes commonly associated with Blacks
(e.g., that they are unintelligent or unsuccessful; Bodenhausen, Schwarz, Bless,
Obama Perceptions Four Years Later 11
anke, 1995; Dasgupta & Greenwald, 2001; Devine & Elliot, 1995; Fiske
et al., 2009). For example, participants who were either exposed to or asked to
think about positive Black exemplars (i.e., Martin Luther King Jr. and Oprah
Winfrey) showed less racial bias toward that group than those exposed to or asked
to think about nonrace-related exemplars (Bodenhausen et al., 1995; Dasgupta &
Greenwald, 2001). This work therefore implies that exposure to Obama’s positive
qualities may also have reduced the racial distance seen between Whites and
Blacks, which may in turn have impacted racial categorization.
Relatedly, BIRGing may also have been involved in the shifting of racial
boundaries surrounding Obama. As stated earlier, the 2008 election showed a
lack of support among both White and Black voters for a candidate that was per-
ceived as either “too Black” or “not Black enough.” BIRGing predicts that while
Obama was successful (as he was after his two election victories), individuals
would be eager to share an in-group with him. Additionally, some analysts sug-
gested that Obama’s biracial heritage and his ability to call on his “Whiteness”
when needed allowed him to navigate between his racial identities purposefully,
giving voters the opportunity to adjust their categorizations of him as best fit for
their needs at that given moment (e.g., Brown, 2011; Daniel, 2009; Ford et al.,
2010; Friedman, 2008). These notions suggest that Obama’s potential flexibil-
ity in racial identification enables both White and Black perceivers to categorize
or claim Obama as their ingroup. Future work, however, should examine these
identification shifts with minority candidates who are not viewed as success-
ful to illuminate how BIRGing may work either to a candidate’s advantage or
As the focus of our study was to examine perceptions of Whites and Blacks,
we have no data for other racial groups. Future research should also examine
non-Black and non-White participants’ perceptions of racial progress as impacted
by Obama. For example, it would be interesting to see if Asians as a “higher
status minority” see Obama as more White than Black and if Latinos would, as
a “lower status minority,” view Obama as more Black than White. Additionally,
the majority of our participant sample was politically liberal, limiting the general-
izability of our findings toward more politically conservative individuals. Future
work should examine these effects among these populations so that we can more
fully understand the role that race plays within a political arena among all types
of voters.
In conclusion,our results suggest that two major segments of the U.S. popu-
lation now choose to identify with President Obama through racial categorization.
While some contend that the mere act of electing a minority president is clear evi-
dence of racial progress, we argue that seeing an increase in both White and Black
individuals’ racial identification with a minority president shows a different form
of racial progress, as it signals their willingness to associate a minority president
with both of their racial ingroups. In other words, Obama may symbolize a form
12 Gaither, Wilton, and Young
of racial progress regardless of the way that his racial identity is represented and
perceived. However, the path toward racial progress is long and multifaceted, and
electing a minority president represents only one step closer to racial equality.
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SARAH E. GAITHER is a doctoral student in the Psychology Department at
Tufts University. Her research interests include intergroup relations, perceptions
and experiences of biracial individuals, and the development of racial biases in
LEIGH S. WILTON is a doctoral student in the Psychology Department at Rutgers
University. Her research interests include multiracial categorization and fostering
diversity in organization contexts.
DANIELLE M. YOUNG is a post-doctoral scholar in the Psychology Department
at Rutgers University. Her research interests include implicit attitudes, stereotyping
and prejudice.
... In light of the actual election outcome, the exploratory analyzes we present here diverge considerably from our initial plan. Our initial goal was to extend upon previous literature that found people overestimated racial progress following President Obama's victory in 2008 and 2012 (Gaither, Wilton, & Young, 2014;Kaiser, Drury, Spalding, Cheryan, & O'Brien, 2009). We anticipated voters might similarly overestimate gender progress in the case of a Clinton victory. ...
... Participants from both samples each completed two nearly identical online surveys: one approximately five weeks before the 2016 Election Day (October 3-7), and another during the week after Election Day (November 14-18). Conservative power analysis based on previous research (Gaither et al., 2014), and in line with pre-registered predictions, suggested a sample size between 200 and 386 to detect a small effect with 80% power. Due to an expected high (~40%) attrition and exclusion rate, we oversampled at the first survey (T1). ...
How do voters’ identities change after a candidate’s defeat? A longitudinal, within-subjects study used Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to explore social identity theory’s (SIT) tenet that threats to self-relevant groups motivate further connection to and affirmation of the group. Two independent samples (university students and adults on Mechanical Turk) were assessed before and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. After Hillary Clinton’s defeat, those who reported voting for Clinton affirmed their political and gender identities in several ways, such as increasing their identification with Clinton. These ecologically valid results are consistent with SIT, and suggest supporters affirm their identities following a threat such as the defeat of their candidate during a high-stakes election. We discuss the implications of these findings within the context of the increasingly polarized U.S. electorate.
... Higher negativity toward Black people on both attitude measures was also related to lower support of Obama and lower intention to vote for his re-election. A separate study found that endorsement of race-related equality programs such as affirmative action were lower in the weeks following Obama's re-election (Gaither, Wilton, & Young, 2014). These results indicate that Obama's election may have been perceived among some White people as signaling a reduction in their political or social power, leading to greater prejudice against Black people in general (see Skinner & Cheadle, this issue, for evidence suggesting that exposure to Obama can increase implicit racial bias among those low in motivation to respond without prejudice). ...
Barack Obama is perhaps the most well-known exemplar of African Americans. However, the extent to which he has impacted attitudes toward African Americans remains unclear. Using cross-sectional data (N > 2,200,000), the present study examined changes in racial attitudes and attitudes toward Obama during the first seven years of Obama's presidency. Attitudes showed no evidence of substantive change. After accounting for shifts in sample demographics, results showed an increase in implicit anti- Black attitudes and no change in explicit anti-Black attitudes. Participation date explained only 0.01% of the variance in implicit attitudes. Corresponding analyses of attitudes toward Obama (N > 210,000) indicated no change in implicit attitudes but increasing negativity toward Obama in explicit attitudes. Date accounted for only 0.01% of explicit attitude variance. Daily and monthly means across both samples were largely unrelated. Attitudes toward African Americans in general and Obama specifically showed little change or correspondence during Obama's presidency.
... White perceivers tend to hold a corrective model of race-based affirmative action use for African Americans such that recognition of discrimination aimed at Black Americans predicts interest in distributing minority resources such as diversity-related financial aid (e.g., Swim & Miller, 1999;Tuch & Hughes, 1996). For example, the election of Barack Obama decreased support for policies like affirmative action because White perceivers no longer believed that discrimination was an issue in the United States (Gaither, Wilton, & Young, 2014;Kaiser, Drury, Spalding, Cheryan, & O'Brien, 2009). More pertinent to the current studies, when White perceivers assume that a specific Black target has experienced racial discrimination, they tend to distribute more minority resources to him (Good et al., 2013;Sanchez et al., 2011). ...
Objectives: This study investigates how racial identity and phenotypicality (i.e., racial ambiguity) shape the perception of biracial individuals in both White and Black perceivers. We investigated complex racial categorization and its downstream consequences, such as perceptions of discrimination. Method: We manipulated racial phenotypicality (Black or racially ambiguous) and racial identity (Black or biracial) to test these cues' influence on Black and White race categorizations in a sample of both White (n = 145) and Black (n = 152) identified individuals. Results: Though racial identity and phenotypicality information influenced deliberate racial categorization, White and Black participants used the cues in different ways. For White perceivers, racial identity and phenotypicality additively influenced Black categorization. For Black perceivers, however, racial identity was only used in Black categorization when racial ambiguity was high. Perceived discrimination was related to White (but not Black) perceivers' distribution of minority resources to targets, however Black categorization related to perceived discrimination for Black perceivers only. Conclusion: By demonstrating how Black and White individuals use identity and phenotype information in race perceptions, we provide a more complete view of the complexities of racial categorization and its downstream consequences. (PsycINFO Database Record
... For example, during the 2008 U.S. presidential election cycle, many media and public sources questioned if Barack Obama, who has biracial White/Black ancestry, was "too White" to be considered as the nation's first Black president. This line of questioning was further complicated due to discussions of the ways in which Obama either enacted Black identity, such as by explicitly self-identifying as Black, or did not enact Black identity, such as through high academic achievement that is often at odds with Black stereotypes (Gaither, Wilton, & Young, 2013;Steele & Aronson, 1995). Similarly, public figures have been thought of as "not Latino enough" for minority hires, despite their heritage, due to their inability to speak Spanish (Wedge, 2012). ...
Understanding racial categorization processes has implications for how affirmative action policies are implemented. Two studies examined how socioeconomic status (SES) functions to predict support for application of affirmative action and other perceptions of Latino targets. SES emerged as a powerful predictor, over and above the influence of ancestry, on person perception (minority categorization, sociocultural cues) and support for affirmative action among both White (Studies 1 and 2) and minority (Study 2) perceivers. In conjunction with ancestry, SES influenced sociocultural impressions, such as perceptions of discrimination (Study 1 and Study 2) and cultural practices (Study 2), which informed support for implementation of affirmative action policies. Furthermore, the joint influence of SES and ancestry on affirmative action policies persisted even when controlling for general attitudes towards affirmative action (Study 2). Results suggest that SES is an important factor in person perception, and that perceptions of discrimination play a strong role in how “deserving” a target is of affirmative action. © 2015 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
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Research addressing the increasing multiracial population (i.e., identifying with two or more races) is rapidly expanding. This meta-analysis ( k = 55) examines categorization patterns consistent with hypodescent, or the tendency to categorize multiracial targets as their lower status racial group. Subgroup analyses suggest that operationalization of multiracial (e.g., presenting photos of racially ambiguous faces, or ancestry information sans picture), target gender, and categorization measurement (e.g., selecting from binary choices: Black or White; or multiple categorization options: Black, White, or multiracial) moderated categorization patterns. Operationalizing multiracial as ancestry, male targets, and measuring categorization with binary or multiple Likert-type scale outcomes supported hypodescent. However, categorizing multiracial targets as not their lower status racial group occurred for female targets or multiple categorization options. Evidence was mixed on whether perceiver and target race were related to categorization patterns. These results point to future directions for understanding categorization processes and multiracial perception.
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Social science researchers increasingly recruit participants through Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform. Yet, the physical isolation of MTurk participants, and perceived lack of experimental control have led to persistent concerns about the quality of the data that can be obtained from MTurk samples. In this paper we focus on two of the most salient concerns—that MTurk participants may not buy into interactive experiments and that they may produce unreliable or invalid data. We review existing research on these topics and present new data to address these concerns. We find that insufficient attention is no more a problem among MTurk samples than among other commonly used convenience or high-quality commercial samples, and that MTurk participants buy into interactive experiments and trust researchers as much as participants in laboratory studies. Furthermore, we find that employing rigorous exclusion methods consistently boosts statistical power without introducing problematic side effects (e.g., substantially biasing the post-exclusion sample), and can thus provide a general solution for dealing with problematic respondents across samples. We conclude with a discussion of best practices and recommendations.
This study examines the relationship among digital citizenship, digital inequality, education, and electoral engagement in the unprecedented 2008 U.S. presidential election. The 2008 presidential election was unique providing an African American candidate, a severe financial crisis, and an unusually unpopular sitting president. In this regard, the presidential election provides an unparalleled political moment to examine the impact of digital citizenship on electoral engagement. Digital citizenship represents the capacity to participate in society online through frequent Internet use leading to economic, civic, and political outcomes. Recent research on digital inequality questions the relationship between frequent Internet use and skill development. In addition, education is considered the “universal solvent” that makes citizens more active in political affairs. Accordingly, electoral engagement, which is strongly influenced by education, is the focal outcome for this study. Despite these concerns, digital citizenship is a significant predictor for electoral engagement in the 2008 election. However, a closer examination of digital citizens revealed that electoral engagement was differentiated by gender and education thus furthering digital inequality. Findings suggested that digital citizenship should be broadened to include a set of digital skills that are more likely to account for Internet activities that improve electoral engagement.
Does government stability shift the way White and Black Americans represent and make voting decisions about political candidates? Participants judged how representative lightened, darkened, and unaltered photographs were of a racially ambiguous candidate ostensibly running for political office (Studies 1-3). When the governmental system was presented as stable, White participants who shared (vs. did not share) the candidate's political beliefs rated a lightened photo as more representative of the candidate, and Black participants who shared (vs. did not share) the candidate's political beliefs rated a darkened photo as more representative (Studies 1-3). However, under conditions of instability, both Whites and Blacks who shared (vs. did not share) the candidate's political beliefs rated a lightened photo as more representative (Study 3). Representations of (Studies 2 and 3) and actual differences in (Studies 4a and 4b) skin tone predicted intentions to vote for candidates, as a function of government stability and participants' race. Further evidence suggested that system stability shifted the motivations that guided voting decisions (Study 4a and 4b). When the system was stable, the motivation to enhance one's group predicted greater intentions to vote for lighter skinned candidates among Whites, and greater intentions to vote for darker skinned candidates among Blacks. When the system was unstable, however, lacking confidence in the sociopolitical system predicted intentions to vote for lighter skinned candidates among both Whites and Blacks. Implications for political leadership and social perception are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record
This essay introduces Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy's collection of papers on the social psychology of the 2012 election, framing it in terms of two prior collections. The papers are described as reflecting four themes: President or Barack Obama's path from outsider to incumbent, the nation's shift toward increasingly racialized politics, contemporary perceptions of "Americanness," and the role of moral values in political engagement. © 2014 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues.
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Images of Black Americans are becoming remarkably diverse, enabling Barack Obama to defy simple-minded stereotypes and succeed. Understood through the Stereotype Content Model's demonstrably fundamental trait dimensions of perceived warmth and competence, images of Black Americans show three relevant patterns. Stereotyping by omission allows non-Blacks to accentuate the positive, excluding any lingering negativity but implying it by its absence; specifically, describing Black Americans as gregarious and passionate suggests warmth but ignores competence and implies its lack. Obama's credentials prevented him from being cast as incompetent, though the experience debate continued. His legendary calm and passionate charisma saved him on the warmth dimension. Social class subtypes for Black Americans differentiate dramatically between low-income Blacks and Black professionals, among both non-Black and Black samples. Obama clearly fit the moderately warm, highly competent Black-professional subtype. Finally, the campaign's events (and nonevents) allowed voter habituation to overcome non-Blacks' automatic emotional vigilance to Black Americans.
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Racial essentialism refers to the widely held belief that race is a biological, stable, and natural category. Although research finds very little evidence that race has biological underpinnings, racial essentialist beliefs persist and are linked to negative outgroup consequences. This study initially demonstrates that label and visual ambiguity concurrently inform racial categorization. It then tests whether exposure to racially ambiguous targets (a) challenges essentialism when ambiguous targets are labeled with biracial categories and (b) reinforces essentialism when ambiguous targets identify with monoracial categories. The results showed that White perceivers (N = 84) who were exposed to racially ambiguous, biracially labeled targets showed reductions in their essentialist thinking about race, whereas perceivers who were exposed to racially ambiguous, monoracially labeled targets showed increases in their essentialist beliefs. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved).
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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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Understanding the perception of multiracial persons is increasingly important in today's diverse society. The present research investigated the process of categorizing multiracial persons as “Multiracial.” We hypothesized that perceivers would make fewer Multiracial categorizations of multiracials and that these categorizations would take longer than monoracial categorizations. We found support for these hypotheses across six experiments. Experiment 1 demonstrated that perceivers did not categorize morphed Black–White faces as Multiracial with the same frequency with which they categorized Black and White faces as Black and White (respectively), and that categorizations of multiracials as Multiracial took longer than monoracial categorizations. Experiment 2 replicated and extended these effects to real Black–White faces. Experiment 3 showed that these findings generalized to Asian–White faces. We used pixel variance analysis to show that these effects were not due to increased variance among Multiracial faces. The image analysis showed that the Black–White morphs and real biracials were actually less varied than either the Black or White sets of faces. Experiments 4 and 5 demonstrated that cognitive load and time constraints detrimentally affected multiracial, but not monoracial, categorizations. Experiment 6 showed that imbuing monoracial categories with importance decreases the use of the Multiracial category. Implications of these findings for understanding perceptions of multiracial persons are discussed.
The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States can have profound impact, currently and into the future, on Whites' racial attitudes by providing unprecedented virtual intergroup contact. The present chapter considers the extent and nature of contemporary racial attitudes and discusses how, drawing on fundamental psychological principles related to intergroup contact, Obama's election can transform the internalized racial attitudes of Whites. We examine not only how, by virtue of his role as president, Obama can change the way Blacks are perceived but also how his rhetoric can shape the perceptions of race relations. We also explore the circumstances that can promote or limit President Obama's effectiveness and positive impact on race relations.
The tendency to "bask in reflected glory" (BIRG) by publicly announcing one's associations with successful others was investigated in 3 field experiments with more than 300 university students. All 3 studies showed this effect to occur even though the person striving to bask in the glory of a successful source was not involved in the cause of the source's success. Exp I demonstrated the BIRG phenomenon by showing a greater tendency for university students to wear school-identifying apparel after their school's football team had been victorious than nonvictorious. Exps II and III replicated this effect by showing that students used the pronoun we more when describing victory than a nonvictory of their school's football team. A model was developed asserting that the BIRG response represents an attempt to enhance one's public image. Exps II and III indicated, in support of this assertion, that the tendency to proclaim a connection with a positive source was strongest when one's public image was threatened. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved).
A random sample of adults read about one of three fictitious candidates running for governor with a photograph of either a white male, a light-complected black male, or a dark-complected black male attached. The results indicate (1) that black candidates were penalized by white voters based on the candidate's race, skin color, and individual levels of racial prejudice; (2) that voters who were racially intolerant and aware of the negative social consequences of expressing their prejudice engaged in self-monitoring (i.e., they relied on information gained from social circumstances and suppressed the reporting of their negative attitudes toward African American candidates); (3) that skin color differences in the black candidate may have generated distinct forms of cognitive processing. That is, respondents exposed to the light-complected black candidate engaged in automatic cognitive processing, while subjects assigned to the dark-skinned black condition consciously processed racial information. The political consequences of these results are discussed.
Do Americans think that, because of Barack Obama’s election, affirmative action and other policies that address racial injustice are no longer necessary? In this study, we examined this question by assessing participants’ perceptions of racial progress and support for remedying racial injustice both prior to and after Barack Obama’s presidential victory. Following the election, participants increased their perception that racism is less of a problem in the US today than in times past. They also expressed less support for policies designed to address racial inequality. Given the continued prevalence of racial disparities in virtually all aspects of American society, these results raise important implications for the status of policies aimed at eliminating racial injustice.