Race and the 2012 election
August 28, 2012 Leave a comment
Romney is not running a racist campaign. Let’s just be clear on that for starters. He is, however, running a campaign that seeks to take advantage of the racial resentment of many white people. The evidence on that is quite clear. There’s a reason that Romney is talking about welfare all the time, and it’s not because anybody is actually debating what to do about the policy right now. Ezra:
Beyond being flatly false, Romney’s ads are puzzlingly anachronistic. Welfare is a shrunken program. Where it helped 68 of every 100 families in poverty in 1996, it only helped 27 of every 100 families in poverty in 2010. Meanwhile, few think the problem in this country is that the poor don’t want to work. Rather, it’s that millions of Americans — the poor and undereducated most of all — can’t find work no matter how hard they try. It’s as if a political strategy from 1992 slipped through a wormhole and began playing out in 2012.
In modern politics, however, when a campaign begins doubling and tripling down on an unusual line of attack, it’s because it has reams of data showing the attack is working. What’s worrying is why this ad might be working.
Political scientist Michael Tesler partnered with the YouGov online polling service to test the question on 1,000 respondents. All the participants answered a standard set of questions that researchers use to identify levels of racial resentment. Half were then shown Romney’s ad. The others weren’t. Then both groups were asked whether Obama and Romney’s policies would help or hurt the poor, the middle class, the wealthy, African Americans and white Americans.
“Among those who saw it,” reports Tesler, “racial resentment affected whether people thought Romney will help the poor, the middle class and African Americans. Moreover, seeing the ad did not activate other attitudes, such as party or ideological self-identification. It only primed racial resentment.”
This is where things get tricky. Romney’s welfare ads are not racist. But the evidence suggests that they work particularly well if the viewer is racist, or at least racially resentful. [emphasis mine] And these are the ads that are working so unexpectedly well that welfare is now the spine of Romney’s 2012 on-air message in the battleground states.
We may have a black president, and we may be moving beyond blatant racism, but racial resentment remains a powerful thing among many whites. If you haven’t read Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ fabulous essay on race and the Obama presidency, you owe it to yourself.