Political Behavior

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 431–451 | Cite as

How Explicit Racial Prejudice Hurt Obama in the 2008 Election

  • Spencer PistonEmail author
Original Paper


Some commentators claim that white Americans put prejudice behind them when evaluating presidential candidates in 2008. Previous research examining whether white racism hurts black candidates has yielded mixed results. Fortunately, the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama provides an opportunity to examine more rigorously whether prejudice disadvantages black candidates. I also make use of an innovation in the measurement of racial stereotypes in the 2008 American National Election Studies survey, which yields higher levels of reporting of racial stereotypes among white respondents. I find that negative stereotypes about blacks significantly eroded white support for Barack Obama. Further, racial stereotypes do not predict support for previous Democratic presidential candidates or current prominent Democrats, indicating that white voters punished Obama for his race rather than his party affiliation. Finally, prejudice had a particularly large impact on the voting decisions of Independents and a substantial impact on Democrats but very little influence on Republicans.


Race Electoral behavior Prejudice Stereotypes Survey 



I thank Arthur Lupia, Vincent L. Hutchings, and Adam Seth Levine for invaluable guidance throughout the course of the project. I am also grateful for comments from Inger Bergom, Ted Brader, Nancy Burns, John E. Jackson, Nathan Kalmoe, Yanna Krupnikov, Nadav Tanners, and several anonymous reviewers. Finally, I thank participants in Arthur Lupia’s graduate course on the 2008 American National Election Studies: L.S. Casey, Abraham Gong, Sourav Guha, Ashley Jardina, Kristyn L. Miller, and Timothy J. Ryan, and attendees at the University of Michigan’s Election 2008 Conference, especially Rosario Aguilar-Pariente, Allison Dale, and Nicholas A. Valentino.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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