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Opinions on health care reform, taxes, and even the president’s dog come down to racial bias
June 2, 2012 4:58 AM   Subscribe

It all comes down to race. Michael Tesler, expanding upon the research of his mentor David Sears, has found racial bias to be a strong indicator of people's opinions on a myriad of political and other issues. The effect extended even to issues that normally would be the most stable and to opinions that would seem divorced from politics.

Tesler showed 1,000 YouGov respondents a picture of a Portuguese water dog and asked how favorably they felt toward it. Half saw the dog introduced as Bo Obama, and half as Ted Kennedy’s dog, Splash. (Both political dogs are the same breed, but the picture was of Obama’s.) Those with negative feelings toward blacks thought less of Obama’s dog....That notion—that our views toward Obama are stable and everything else is changing around them—has been at the core of Michael Tesler’s groundbreaking survey research throughout the Obama era. Last week, as PPP tracked opinion in Maryland, the Brown University political scientist was reviewing his own national polls conducted since Obama’s switch, which helped moor the movement on gay marriage in a broader, deeper set of attitudes. Not only was Obama’s support pulling blacks toward his position, it was also pushing a segment of whites whom Tesler categorized as “racial conservatives” away from his position. In other words, Obama had such sway over race-conscious voters that they adjusted their positions on gay marriage because of him.
posted by caddis (34 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
So we have the racists who hate Obama and everything he stands for, we have the racial liberals who love Obama and everything he stands for, and then we have everybody else. I guess it would have been nice if the article included a few numbers to give us a sense of how many of us fall into these categories. For that reason I really dislike the SLATE headline:

Your opinions on health care reform, taxes, and even the president’s dog come down to racial bias.

It implies that everybody is running around thinking about everything and anything through the same lens, which is nonsense. I think there are a great many of us who voted for Obama and like some of his policies and dislike others. Shocker, I know.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:45 AM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Soo, there are a lot of voters who were supportive of gay rights but racist enough that Obama's supporting them pushed them away?
posted by emjaybee at 5:52 AM on June 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Soo, there are a lot of voters who were supportive of gay rights but racist enough that Obama's supporting them pushed them away?

Not that, perhaps, but I do have a lot of friends who didn't seem to mind at all that Bush supported civil unions who are now acting like Obama supporting gay marriage is the worst thing to happen in America, ever. The response is hugely disproportionate. But I've been chalking that up to standard Republican vs. Democrat filters.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:00 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Your opinions on health care reform, taxes, and even the president’s dog come down to racial bias.

So if I agree with the president, I'm biased against whites? This makes no sense.
posted by desjardins at 6:00 AM on June 2, 2012


In addition to being the name of his dog, 'Splash' was also Ted Kennedy's favorite movie.
posted by box at 6:25 AM on June 2, 2012


So if I agree with the president, I'm biased against whites? This makes no sense.


That's not quite what it's saying:

White liberals and blacks are as primed to support what he believes as racists are to oppose it

For me, this article benefitted from a second read-through.

It's interesting, I guess.
posted by Miko at 6:26 AM on June 2, 2012


Well, not only is the single link broken for me (mobile version, anyway) but there simply isn't enough context here for me to understand why this is best of the web.
posted by salishsea at 6:34 AM on June 2, 2012


Really, there's only one question that comes to my mind: What's with all the Portuguese water dogs?
posted by valrus at 6:46 AM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's with all the Portuguese water dogs?

They're hypo-allergenic.
posted by localroger at 6:54 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


If there is anything an American hates (left or right) it is being told that his/her opinion is not as unique and independently determined by his/her powers of reason--without bias from cultural or sociological factors--as he/she would like to think. Special snowflakes, every one of us.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 7:02 AM on June 2, 2012 [17 favorites]


Before this thread gets cluttered with people shooting from the hip based on tl;dr analysis, here's some of Michael Tesler's papers.

The Spillover of Racialization into Health Care

The Return of Old Fashioned Racism to White Americans' Partisan Preferences in the Early Obama Era

President Obama and the Novel Influence of Anti-Muslim Attitudes in the 2010 Midterm Elections

Is the Obama Presidency Post Racial? Evidence from His First Year in Office
posted by jonp72 at 7:36 AM on June 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


And of course, that racial bias all boils down to sex. This article really doesn't surprise me; as a white man in the south who keeps his liberal opinions pretty much to himself people say all sorts of appalling things around me. Taxes are bad because they are wasted to provide housing subsidies and food stamps for welfare queens. Soft on crime politicians and judges are bad becaue they let urban thugs roam the streets with impunity. Health care reform is bad because all those uninsured folks are just to lazy and irresponsible to get a job. I once heard a person who was very well educated (an attorney, in fact) come right out and say that "95% of America's problems are because of niggers" (sorry for the offensive language, but those were his exact words). The gay marriage thing is a less obvious, but since the GOP has spent the last few decades wrapping all these things up into one package it makes sense that attitudes toward gay marriage correlate well with other political issues, which in turn correlate with views on race.
posted by TedW at 7:51 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


What if Obama's dog is gay? This research leaves so many questions unanswered.
posted by srboisvert at 7:53 AM on June 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


And of course, that racial bias all boils down to sex.

That's no joke. Tesler found that attitudes about interracial dating had no correlation with partisan preference about presidential candidates for several decades until Obama became the Democratic nominee in 2008.
posted by jonp72 at 8:05 AM on June 2, 2012


I feel like the article is saying "Obama's presidency has made race more racially polarized" when Tesler, the academic, is actually saying "Obama's presidency has laid bare a lot of racism that we used to pretend we didn't have"
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:06 AM on June 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


sorry, that should say "made america more racially polarized"
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:08 AM on June 2, 2012


The Spillover of Racialization into Health Care: How President Obama Polarized
Public Opinion by Racial Attitudes and Race


Doesn't seem like the best subtitle. Saying that Obama "polarized public opinion by racial attitude," is like saying, "his face ran into my fist." Obama didn't *do* any such thing. Other people leveraged existing racism to serve their own ends.
posted by jon1270 at 8:15 AM on June 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Racism is primarily an "Us vs Them" filter, and as such, the more racist one is, the fewer of "us" there are.

Literally, on mittromney.com, right now, there is a big picture that says: "good for them, bad for us".

Unfortunately, politics has increasingly become about "us vs them", and as such, I believe suffers greatly. The concept of the loyal opposition is essential to a functioning democracy.
posted by Freen at 8:18 AM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I feel like the article is saying "Obama's presidency has made race more racially polarized" when Tesler, the academic, is actually saying "Obama's presidency has laid bare a lot of racism that we used to pretend we didn't have"

Tesler shows that old-fashioned racism (the blatant, non-dog-whistle kind) still persisted in opinion surveys in the 1980s, but that its effect on partisan preference was weakening since the 1990s, until the reaction to Obama's presidential campaign and presidency revived it again. The effect of race on American politics is not static, but changes over time.
posted by jonp72 at 8:30 AM on June 2, 2012


good for them, bad for us

The guy who made the URL can't even spell 'cronyism'.
posted by goethean at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Freen sort of stumbled on the right thing here. Tesler's papers, in a quick skim, show an appalling lack of interest in the question of what underlying predispositions and attitudes drive what he calls "OFR" (old fashioned racism) and polarization. And it's not like this stuff is a mystery; there is well-formed, well-thought out research into this question. In particular, Karen Stenner's The Authoritarian Dynamic is a must-read here, but her more recent paper (2009) is also an excellent summary of her research. Basically, there is an underlying psychology (what she calls the "authoritarian predisposition") in some but not all people. This predisposition reflects the desire of some people to 'structure society and social interactions in ways that enhance sameness and minimize diversity of people, beliefs, and behaviors.' In her words, "this worldview induces both personal coercion of and bias against different others (racial and ethnic outgroups, political dissidents, moral “deviants”) as well as political demands for authoritative constraints on their behavior." Her research (including strong experimental research) strongly suggests that this predisposition is particularly strongly activated under conditions of threat, such as economic depression or the presence of racial minorities (e.g., seeing them in positions of power or on TV).

In other words, what we're seeing is not "old-fashioned racism" causing anything, or Obama "causing" a revival in OFR. What we're seeing is a deeper construct, triggered in part by Obama's presence on our TV screens but also by economic stress, that manifests itself as OFR but also things like the tea party. And prior to Obama, post-9/11, it manifested itself as extreme calls for conformity such that even the slightest deviation led to screams of treason. None of this is new or unpredictable - all you had to do was read her research in the late '90s to have had a very clear idea of what the post-9/11 and post-Obama eras were going to bring. The question now, of course, is what do we do about it- and that, I'm afraid, she's got no good suggestions on.
posted by louie at 8:51 AM on June 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


(And I should have previewed, but to jonp72's point: what Tesler was really seeing, I think, is that the conditions of threat (economics, race) were much reduced in the '90s and so overt manifestations of authoritarianism, like OFR, declined. The economic crash and constant presence of an out-group in our living rooms constituted threat and revived it.)
posted by louie at 8:52 AM on June 2, 2012


Is race connected to other issues in counter-intuitive but fundamental ways? Certainly.

Is race the most fundamental issue in determining political preference? Haven't sold me on that one.

If anything, I think the article just shows that political issues aren't atomistic, and that opinions are formed not by generation from first principles up but by a sort of bizarre feedback loop, where pressure on one area can have bizarre and unpredictable consequences in other areas. Sometimes it's race. Sometimes it's sexual ethics. Sometimes it's political ideology per se, i.e., what we think about the proper role of the state. Sometimes it's gender. Sometimes it's class. Sometimes it's aesthetics, for crying out loud. Push on any one of those and you can expect to see effects in all of the others.

But privileging race over all the others and making it the axis around which the others turn just isn't credible. Is it in play? Yes, pretty much always. But arguing that it's somehow a super-issue that determines other issues without in turn being determined by them is simplistic and near-sighted.
posted by valkyryn at 9:33 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Early tasteless joke removed. Act like you like it here.]
posted by jessamyn at 9:47 AM on June 2, 2012


In other words, what we're seeing is not "old-fashioned racism" causing anything, or Obama "causing" a revival in OFR. What we're seeing is a deeper construct, triggered in part by Obama's presence on our TV screens but also by economic stress, that manifests itself as OFR but also things like the tea party.

You may be right, louie, but I'm leery of introducing the concept of the authoritarian personality into explaining public opinion, because I think that famous social psychology experiments like the Milgram experiment and Zimbardo's Stanford prison experiment suggest that anybody can act like an authoritarian when placed in the right context. Similarly, I think contextual factors, like Obama's race, may be more likely to awaken authoritarianism in some people rather than others. If general authoritarianism were at work, I think you'd see authoritarian attitudes direct against liberals and Democrats regardless of race, whereas the patterns that Tesler is finding seem to surface in 2008 and coincide perfectly with Obama's presidential campaign and his rise to the presidency.
posted by jonp72 at 10:54 AM on June 2, 2012


Is race connected to other issues in counter-intuitive but fundamental ways? Certainly.

Is race the most fundamental issue in determining political preference? Haven't sold me on that one.


Actually, Tesler does not claim that race is some Ur-Issue that determines preferences on all other issues, but rather that the effect of race has reached a peak in determining partisan preference in the post-Obama era (2008-present). Tesler cites earlier research about how Jesse Jackson's run for the presidency in 1984 played a role in speeding up the turnover of the South from a historically Democratic region to a solidly Republican region, but that the effect of race and racism dissipated in the 1990s as racially coded issues like welfare and affirmative action slid off the agenda.
posted by jonp72 at 11:00 AM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


And of course, that racial bias all boils down to sex. This article really doesn't surprise me; as a white man in the south who keeps his liberal opinions pretty much to himself people say all sorts of appalling things around me. Taxes are bad because they are wasted to provide housing subsidies and food stamps for welfare queens. Soft on crime politicians and judges are bad becaue they let urban thugs roam the streets with impunity. Health care reform is bad because all those uninsured folks are just to lazy and irresponsible to get a job. I once heard a person who was very well educated (an attorney, in fact) come right out and say that "95% of America's problems are because of niggers" (sorry for the offensive language, but those were his exact words).
I don't understand this argument. I'm not saying the conclusion you've drawn is wrong; I just don't see how your argument backs it up.

How do any of those examples boil down to sex? Obviously complaining about "welfare queens" is sex-based, but I'm pretty sure that most people who complain about welfare queens don't exactly like welfare kings either.

The others, I don't see at all. "Letting urban thugs roam the streets"? "Uninsured are lazy and irresponsible"? "Problems are because of niggers"? How do all of those "of course" boil down to sex? None of them obviously boil down to sex for me.
posted by Flunkie at 1:39 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand this argument. I'm not saying the conclusion you've drawn is wrong; I just don't see how your argument backs it up.

I'm afraid my formatting and phrasing were unclear. Although I was being lighthearted about it, my first sentence was an attempt to bring up the oft-made assertion (with which I agree) that the foundation for much racism is fear of the other's sexuality. In other words, just as the article asserts that race is behind many political views, perhaps sex is behind the racial views of many people.

The remainder of my comment was not meant to support my assertion about sex, rather my way of agreeing with the original article. In my experience, at least, there is a lot of correlation between people's views on race and their other political views.

I hope I've explained myself better.
posted by TedW at 2:13 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, you did. Thanks.
posted by Flunkie at 2:45 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Literally, on mittromney.com, right now, there is a big picture that says: "good for them, bad for us".

I went there and couldn't see it. Do you have a link to this?
posted by Miko at 2:53 PM on June 2, 2012


Miko:

http://m.mittromney.com/sites/default/files/imagecache/1_oho_980px/banners/Romney-2012-Chronyism-Carousel-2-Deploy.jpg
posted by jon1270 at 4:15 PM on June 2, 2012


How do any of those examples boil down to sex? Obviously complaining about "welfare queens" is sex-based, but I'm pretty sure that most people who complain about welfare queens don't exactly like welfare kings either.

"Welfare queen" does not have a male equivalent.
posted by desuetude at 12:12 AM on June 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


*ahem*

d'uh.
posted by liza at 6:36 PM on June 3, 2012


Racism is primarily an "Us vs Them" filter, and as such, the more racist one is, the fewer of "us" there are.

Literally, on mittromney.com, right now, there is a big picture that says: "good for them, bad for us".


I was all about to slap that on Facebook and snark about it, but the frame around it is "Obama cronyism: good for them, bad for us" I agree that the "Them and us" language is concerning and signals pretty clearly who "us" is, but I think they'd counter that the "them" is Obama and his "cronies" in green energy, Solyndra, etc.
posted by Miko at 5:20 AM on June 4, 2012


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