The Influence of Explicit Racial Cues on Candidate Evaluation

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Green, Joshua Aaron (2013)
  • Publisher: eScholarship, University of California
  • Subject: Political Science | Mass communication | Social psychology | campaign coverage | explicit cues | implicit association test | media | priming | race

Since Barack Obama's presidential campaign of 2008, media outlets have changed how race is covered and framed during political campaigns. In the so-called "post-racial" era of American politics when race is supposed to matter less, we are still very much attuned to stories that are framed by racial conflict. When the media wraps a "racial mode of interpretation" around a conflict between two candidates, there are potential electoral penalties involved for either a white or black candidate who becomes entangled in such a controversy.This project describes this process and provides empirical evidence that individuals' political judgments of candidates can be changed when exposed to such framing. Through a series of three survey experiments that simulate the effect of race-salient media coverage on voters, I find that there are statistically significant electoral penalties--in some cases, more than 10 percentage points--when respondents learn new information about a candidate that either assigns blame for a "race play" or connects him and his opponent to racial controversy. There is also evidence that the media plays a significant role in assigning blame for playing the race card. More respondents were willing to assign blame to a particular candidate when they read news stories in which a media analyst blamed that candidate.While past literature has focused on racial priming processes that activate white resentment through implicit or explicit cues in campaign ads, this research demonstrates that there may be an important learning process that has been overlooked. Media coverage with an explicit racial mode of interpretation may activate a broader backlash effect among respondents regardless of their racial resentment scores.
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