People Research Facilities Events

Charles Taber, PhD, Department of Political Science
Stony Brook University

Race and Political Cognition
December 11, 2006

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Abstract - Political scientists have long debated the role of racism in political attitudes in the U.S., with some scholars arguing that racism is no longer the potent force it once was and others arguing that racism remains potent, but now takes a more subtle form. This debate cannot be satisfactorily addressed with explicit measures (i.e., those the respondent is fully aware of) because of self-presentational and social desirability biases or because citizens may not be fully aware of their own racial attitudes. I use an experimental method adapted from cognitive psychology to explore the implicit associations (non-conscious, spontaneous) to race-related policies that people carry in their minds. This method allows me to assess the degree to which race affects attitudes on policies like affirmative action, welfare, or crime, without the influence of social desirability (people may not want to admit to their racial attitudes). The research on race in politics offers several competing hypotheses about whether race stereotypes or an ideological concern for merit and hard work will become more accessible when people think about race-related policies like affirmative action. While racial thoughts may become accessible for some conservatives, they ought to be no more accessible for conservatives than for liberals. Our pilot study shows that race remains the most potent implicit consideration for most subjects, even conservatives, when primed with affirmative action. But when asked to think consciously about affirmative action and other race-related issues, most participants bring both racial and ideological considerations to mind. This suggests an important implicit/explicit divide in thinking on racial issues that is reminiscent of some earlier studies of racial attitudes.