A new study by researchers at Brown and Stanford turns conventional political assumptions upside down and proves hard left liberals are more likely than conservatives or moderates to hold latent racist attitudes that influence their policy views.
The ‘dog-whistle hypothesis’, or racial priming theory, posits that White Americans hold dormant racist views that can be triggered to invoke prejudiced responses to subtly coded political messages. There is debate in academic circles about the effectiveness of ‘explicit’ and ‘implicit’ racially-charged rhetoric, but a majority of evidence suggest that ‘implicit’ or subtly coded messages are more effective at influencing people’s views, since the messages remain subtle enough not to be immediately flagged by the viewer as racist. The study includes a detailed history of various tests and theories attempting to measure and exploit purported racism, and the entire framework relies on a somewhat bleak analysis of race relations. What’s notable is what the researchers found when they measured responses across ideological groups.
The researchers set out to test a few parameters, including whether a subtle-racist message was indeed more effective at invoking latent racism than an overt-racist message or a neutral message, and exploring the effectiveness of the various messages across ideological groups. They tested the ‘the dog-whistle hypothesis’ on a group of White Americans using two internet-based surveys. About a third of the group identified as liberal, conservative, and moderate.
The primary survey presented participants with four political messages on welfare reform: a message opposing welfare programs that included a subtle, implicit racial statement, a message opposing welfare programs with an explicit racial statement, a message opposing welfare programs with no racial statement, or a control message unrelated to the first three. The messages opposing welfare included actual commentary from conservative arguments by Ronald Reagan, the American Freedom Party, and James Inhofe. The researchers hypothesized that the implicit, subtly coded messages would have the strongest influence on White voters’ policy views, and that the explicit messages would come across as overtly racist and be less effective.
In the resulting analysis, the researchers found that the implicit racial messages resulted in significantly less support for welfare programs than the messages with no racial appeal element, and the explicit racial message produced results somewhere in between the two extremes, not differing significantly from either the control message or the implicit message. However, conservatives and liberals responded differently to the implicit racially-coded message. Among the group that showed a higher baseline for racial-resentment, the implicit racially-charged message was significantly more effective at modifying the opinions of liberals, than the opinions of conservatives or moderates. The study stated:
“After reading an antiwelfare message where racial cues were subtly implied, liberals high in racial resentment expressed less support for welfare programs than those who read an excerpt about global warming, while liberals low in racial resentment voiced approximately equivalent support across condition. In contrast, moderates and conservatives high in racial resentment showed little effect of the implicit racial appeal condition on welfare support relative to the control condition.”
The researchers continued, “Looking first at the effect of the implicit appeal, results suggest that the implicit racial appeal increased the effect of racial resentment on welfare support among liberals specifically.” This surprised the researchers, who concluded that the finding held true regardless of controlling for demographic factors that might confound the results.
So why would liberals be more ‘primed’ by subtly-racist messages than conservatives or moderates? The researchers speculated that because conservative arguments purportedly tie race to policy positions, conservatives already hold a strong association between the two and thus there is no ‘novelty’ when they’re presented with an implicitly-racist message. The takeaway there is, ‘conservatives are already so racist, nothing shocks them’, which is entirely unfunded speculation. When was the last time you saw a conservative argument against the welfare state that called out Black Americans? There are countless policy papers from free market research organizations noting the benefits of lower taxes, reduced regulation, and school voucher programs, to minority groups specifically.
Sure, we can cast back to earlier this month when Joe Biden stuck his proverbial foot in his mouth discussing education at a town hall In Iowa and blurted out, “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” invoking immediate criticism for his conflation of Black children with ‘poor kids’. But then, Biden’s a Democrat. It’s time for the hard left to stop shouting racism because of the policy positions conservatives hold. A preference for lower taxes or school choice does not equal racism. It’s also time for the hard left to take a look in the mirror before accusing others of racism.