How much has racial prejudice hurt President Obama?

Posted July 11th, 2014 by
Category: Living consequences Tags: , , ,

President Barack ObamaThere are two new studies out on public opinion and voting behavior which shed light on persistent questions about how much racial prejudice hurts black politicians, and in particular, President Obama’s approval ratings and his vote totals in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

The first new study, “The cost of racial animus on a black candidate,” by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz and slated for publication in the October 2014 issue of the Journal of Public Economics, asks a relatively simple question: how much did racial prejudice affect Barack Obama’s vote share?1

Stephens-Davidowitz offers a new way to estimate the “racial animus” of voters, and thus of the vote share that President Obama lost simply because he was black. The paper estimates an area’s racial animus using data from Google on search queries using racially-charged language, which has the advantage of not relying on people’s honesty in answering survey questions which probe for racial prejudice. This measure finds 1.5 to 3 times as much racial animus as traditional surveys do. Stephens-Davidowitz then compares an area’s racial animus against the change in vote share between Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012.

The result? Stephens-Davidowitz finds that racial animus among U.S. voters cost Barack Obama about four percentage points in the national vote in both 2008 and 2012.

The other new study, by Josh Pasek, Tobias H. Stark, Jon A. Krosnick, Trevor Tompson, and B. Keith Payne, is “Attitudes Toward Blacks in the Obama Era: Changing Distributions and Impacts on Job Approval and Electoral Choice, 2008–2012,” available in a special summer issue of Public Opinion Quarterly.2

This paper asks a more complicated question: how has the election of a black president impacted racial prejudice in the United States, how has having a black president changed the connection between anti-black sentiment and the approval ratings and vote shares of black candidates, and how did these factors affect the impact of racial prejudice on President Obama’s vote share in 2012?

Pasek et al. find that between 2008 and 2012, prejudice towards blacks became increasingly disconnected from presidential approval ratings and voter choices at the polls. In other words, those exhibiting anti-black sentiment were less likely to express disapproval of President Obama for that reason, or to vote against him because of prejudice, after experiencing him as president.

Ordinarily, this would suggest that anti-black prejudice would have had less of an impact on President Obama’s share of the vote during the 2012 election.

However, the authors of this study also note that between 2008 and 2012, there was a significant rise in anti-black sentiment in the United States, perhaps also as a result of the experience of the nation’s first black president. As a result, these two factors—the decoupling of prejudice from voting behavior, and increased racial animosity among voters—canceled each other out, and prejudice against blacks seems to have reduced the president’s vote share in 2012 by about the same amount as in 2008. (Thus explaining the conclusion of the first study, that racial animus impacted Obama’s vote share about equally in the two elections.)

  1. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, “The cost of racial animus on a black candidate: Evidence using Google search data,” Journal of Public Economics 118: 26-40 (2014). []
  2. Josh Pasek, Tobias H. Stark, Jon A. Krosnick, Trevor Tompson, and B. Keith Payne, “Attitudes Toward Blacks in the Obama Era: Changing Distributions and Impacts on Job Approval and Electoral Choice, 2008–2012,” Public Opinion Quarterly 78:S1 (2014): 276-302. []

One Response to “How much has racial prejudice hurt President Obama?”

  1. Stella Antley Says:

    Dear tracing Center and Your readers, thank you for sharing this “Need to know” documented Study and findings. I’ve worked in politics, from the grassroots level, door to door “Get out the Vote” canvassing, voter registration, taking my children with me so they would learn the importance of “Voter Power”, to poll standing to working at the State Capitol at the highest level of government, the Executive Branch, under our last Connecticut, Democratic Governor, the late Gov. Bill O’Neil, Secretary of State, as her Executive Assistant. Connecticut was once known as the most liberal state in the Country but during the 80s and until the 21st Century…..in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 7 to 1, the electorate voted in a Republican Governor for the first time in like FOREVER!!, and kept a Republican Governor for at least 20 consecutive years until the last one went to prison, erstwhile Gov. John Rowland. What does this reversal of voting pattern tell you?…question asked and answered….and this newly released Study confirms my worst fear….”Americans vote their pocketbooks”….not for what is best for the Country or its citizens as a whole…I’m sure President John Kennedy’s …”Ask not what your Country…” Speech applies, here. This Country and the world was at an economic abyss, with wars and rumors of wars, weapons of mass destruction fear tacktess, an end to the Bush Dynasty for the “rich and famous” when they elected “anyone but another Repubican…” I was office manager to the encumbent’s Demoocratic opponent, for Governor of Connecticut, Bill Curry, who had been on President Clinton’s fiscal team and the President credited him with helping to balance the national budget and had been this state’s Comptroller and could get the job done in Connecticut, on a State level….. and First Lady Hillary came to stomp for Democratic Candidate,Bill Curry (I have a picture with her but missed one with the President because I was in the ladies’room doing my nails in order to shake his hand and missed him…but I digress), they, along with Al Gore, I have a picture with VP Al Gore, also, came to stomp for him…..but this Democratic State re-elected a Republican Governor, a corrupt governor!!… And refused to listen to our candidate when he told the voters that we had, at that time, the highest deficit in the Country and that to balance that he would raise taxes…they still elected him and he raised taxes!! I chose politics as my vocation because I realized early on that politics was and is Black People’s only power base and because the Slave holding me could Not vote. As a people, with the least numbers in almost every socio-economical stratum, other than our high numbers in prison, (they’ve even made a new satrical, comedy about our incarcerated Black Brothers and Sisters, called “Orange is the new Black” I hear there is an Oscar Buzz..as the producers laugh their way to the bank and we laugh our way to prisons), we are the least represented and our voices and cry for equality has gone unheard for too long. Voter turnout, among Blacks, for President Barack Obama, was the highest EVER, at 96 percent, and without our votes, he would not have been elected as the white vote polarized, especially among white women. There is a growing separatist movement growing in this Country being fueled by the economy and growing not in our favor, and since we fail to vote, other than for a Black candidate, like Barack Obama, we fail to organize, recognize, become a part of the solution rather than the problem, apathy, Black on Black Genocide, lack interest in our civic responsibilities, in our communities, we remain victims of this Country’s “Great Divide”. President Obama saved this Country from the brink of insolvency on so many levels and fiscal cliffs, and he justly became “America’s Favorite Son” but for a brief time because as in any dire emergency, Americans seem to know how to come together…case in point “911” but once the dire emergency subsides, we return to being nationalists for our own ethnic group, our own self-serving communities and hidden agendas… no longer Americans united for the common good and cause, but return to being polarized Polish-Americans, or Irish-Americans, or Italian-Americans, or Anglo-Saxon Americans, first and Americans second, while African-Americans become more and more disenfranchised and a “no show at the polls”, but bursting at the seams in our 65percent Black overrun population, in our privitalized, prisons for profit,”Prison Plantations”, corrupt, penal system… even with a sitting African-American President. I cannot help but pause and ponder …had President Obama not had a white mother, if this Country would have elected him or any Black candidate? Having worke in politics for over 20 years, the question becomes moot, academic and retorical. This Country elected a “lame duck” President by electing a Repubican controlled Congress by putting the needs of the few ahead of the many….instead, the Koch Brothers, the Tea Party Movement, and other right winged groups are running the Country while blaming the President for the inertia this Country is suffering from. Please read the book “Dog Whistle Politics” and then let’s talk.

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