Reporters often describe President Donald Trump’s racism as a strategy to excite Republican voters, but it may actually work better on certain self-identified liberals.
That’s the conclusion a pair of academic researchers reached after conducting an experiment with hundreds of white Americans earlier this year.
A subset of liberals, not conservatives, could be the group “most responsive to the implicit ― and sometimes explicit ― racial appeals of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign,” Rachel Wetts and Robb Willer wrote in their paper, which appears this month in Socius, a scholarly journal published by the American Sociological Association.
Wetts is an assistant sociology professor at Brown University and Willer is a sociology professor at Stanford. A previous paper they co-authored examined the way white attitudes toward welfare soured after survey participants were told white Americans would someday lose their majority status.
For the new experiment, the researchers first screened participants to gauge their level of racial resentment, asking them how much they agreed with various statements, including this one: “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”
Then, about two weeks later, they divided their 800-plus subjects into three groups, and presented each group with a short political statement from an unattributed source. One group got Ronald Reagan lamenting welfare and “inner cities,” absent fathers and pathological poverty. Another group got flamingly racist statements about food stamps from the American Freedom Party. The third, the control group, got Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) whining about “global warming alarmists.”
The professors wanted to test a popular theory that subtly racist cues ― such as terms like “inner city” that many associate with Black Americans ― harness subconscious racial animus to sway white voters against government spending. Statements that are openly racist, on the other hand, are thought to turn off those voters.
“If the dog-whistle hypothesis is correct, we would expect implicit but not explicit racial appeals to increase the impact of racial resentment on whites’ policy evaluations,” Wetts and Willer wrote.
Their experiment confirmed the hypothesis ― but with an unexpected twist. …