Results released this month from an ongoing University of Washington study of eligible voters indicate that partiality for whites over blacks is the strongest in the least politically-partisan voters and racial biases against President Barack Obama could produce up to a 20 percent gap in the popular vote in an otherwise equal contest.
"Although they may not determine the election outcome, race biases are having a strong anti-Obama effect among the least politically partisan voters," said Anthony Greenwald, the University of Washington psychology professor who conducted the survey.
But Greenwald notes that "People who have race biases against Obama may still believe he's preferable to Mitt Romney for other reasons, and so race attitudes do not appear to be potent enough to overcome the other sources of favorability for Obama."
Greenwald's latest online survey of about 8,600 eligible voters collected from July through September found 80 percent of the respondents were white, which reflects the electorate. However, because the sample had a substantial majority of liberals which does not represent the American electorate says Greenwald.
Greenwald measured unconscious racial attitudes using the Implicit Association Test, a tool he developed more than a decade ago. Greenwald found that 25 percent of the most ideologically polarized voters who appeared to have already settled on their preferred choice, racial attitudes appeared to influence votes for only about 2.4 percent. But the 25 percent who were least polarized with no strong affiliations with either political party, racial attitudes influenced nearly 10 percent. Greenwald notes that if 10 percent of voters switched their vote for or against a candidate, it would cause a 20 percent gap between candidates.
In other words, those at the far ideological end of the spectrum strongly favoring Obama or Romney were relatively unaffected by racial attitudes while those closer to the middle showed they were more likely influenced by racial biases.
Greenwald’s findings are consistent with the results he released in May using nearly 15,000 voters. That study revealed that between January and April 2012 leading up to the Republican primary, eligible voters who favored whites over blacks –consciously or unconsciously – also favored Republican candidates. In that study, a majority of white eligible voters showed a pattern labeled “automatic white preference” when measuring unconscious racial bias. Past studies indicate that both blacks and whites show such preferences for their own race, according to Greenwald. However, when it comes to unconscious preferences, blacks tend not to prefer one race over another, whereas close to 70 percent of white Americans show an implicit racial bias, said Greenwald.
“The study’s findings raise an interesting question: After nearly four years of having an African-American president in the White House, why do racial attitudes continue to have a role in electoral politics?” Greenwald asked.
Greenwald speculates that Obama as president during the 2012 election may have “brought out race-based antagonism that had less reason to be activated in 2008.” Another possibility is that Republican assertions that the most important goal is to remove Obama from the presidency “may have strong appeal to those who have latent racial motivation,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald’s survey will continue through October in order to determine whether racial attitudes have as large of an effect on undecided voters.
What do you think?