Scholars find that negative evaluations of Blacks lead Whites to vote against Black political candidates. However, can an in-group psychological process have the same effect? We consider White racial identity to be a strong candidate for such a process. We argue that the mere presence of a Black candidate cues the identity, reducing support for these candidates among Whites. We test this hypothesis on vote choice in seven instances. Five of them involve simple vote choice models: the 2008 and 2012 Presidential elections, and three elections in 2010: The Massachusetts Gubernatorial election, Black candidates for the US House, and Black candidates for the US Senate. The other two are tests of the notion that White racial identity reduced President Obama’s approval, thus reducing support for all Democratic Congressional candidates in the 2010 Midterm and 2012 Congressional elections. We find support for these notions in all seven cases, across these seven elections, using four different survey research datasets, and four different measures of White identity. Comparisons with other presidential elections show that White identity did not significantly affect mono-racial elections. Furthermore, we find the White identity and racial resentment results to be very similar in terms of their robustness and apparent effect sizes. This indicates in-group evaluations, and those that focus on out-groups, operate independently of one another.
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This leads to, among other things, perceived shared fate with the group, with people believing that the experiences of other group members also affect them.
For example, people who belong to high-status groups tend to have stronger group identities because the group identity increases self-esteem. Huddy (2013, p. 39) applies social identity theory to politics and writes, “There is evidence that ethnic identity is more strongly developed among members of objectively identified, higher status groups and among individuals who perceive their group as holding higher societal status.”
The studies we cite in this paragraph go well beyond simply correlating White racial identity with racial attitudes. The social psychology studies, in particular, carefully consider the links between White racial identity and a wide array of attitudes and feelings that are hypothesized to be related to it. Using experiments, scholars establish the causal role of White racial identity and how it relates to attitudes regarding collective fate, racial affect, and even White privilege. White racial identity constitutes a collective psychological construct independent of, though causally related to, attitudes toward racial out-groups.
Our analyses are limited because the ANES in 2004 and 2008 lacked measures of White identity.
We posted replication materials at: https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/harvard.
Each table describes what levels of aggregation the standard errors are adjusted for. For all models, the tolerance test produced statistics of .2 and above for all independent variables, indicating little multicollinearity threat. For a further discussion of the methodological details, see Appendix A in the supplemental material online.
When available in the data, all of the models include this set of control variables: Party identification, ideological identification, age, income, education, gender, church attendance, and region (the Deep South). When available, we also controlled for economic evaluations and political values. Given the political dynamics of the 2008–2012 elections, and data availability, we also elected to control for relevant policy-related evaluations, such as evaluations of the Affordable Care Act.
Piston (2010) finds that among Whites, Whites with more positive White stereotypic evaluations relative to Blacks were more likely to support President Obama in 2008. Our understanding of White racial identity leads us to conclude that such a factor should correlate with White racial identity, and in fact, in Appendix B Table B1 (online), we find that White identity does correlate with these racial stereotype evaluations. This leads to the concern that such an uncontrolled for factor could be the real power behind White racial identity. We included a control for it in the 2012 model and found the coefficient to be statistically non-significant, and the substantive conclusions of our results unchanged. We report the full results in Appendix D in the supplemental material online.
If the election for governor were held today, and the candidates were: Deval Patrick, the Democrat; Charles Baker, the Republican; Tim Cahill, the Independent; or Jill Stein, the Rainbow Party/Green Party Candidate, for whom would you vote?
[Asked to those who answer Don’t Know or Undecided] At this moment do you lean more towards: Deval Patrick, the Democrat; Charles Baker, the Republican; Tim Cahill, the Independent; or Jill Stein, the Rainbow Party/Green Party Candidate? Patrick supporters in question 1 and Patrick leaners in question 2 coded as 1; all others, coded zero.
For whom did you vote [in the 2010 Gubernatorial election]? Was it: Deval Patrick, the Democrat; Charles Baker, the Republican; Tim Cahill, the Independent; or Jill Stein, the Rainbow Party/Green Party Candidate? Patrick coded 1; all others, 0.
Some scholars find that centering items at their means before multiplying them together in an interaction is not an advantageous collinearity solution. However, Paccagnella (2006) finds that in the specific case of cross-level interactions, centering is a good solution. We of course estimate such an interaction here. Our collinearity statistics indicate that the centering solved the collinearity problem.
The dotted flat line indicates that when Democratic US Senate candidates were not Black, on average they received about 30 % of the vote nationally. We note that at the national level, Democrats regularly receive less than half of the vote from Whites, with supermajorities from non-Whites generating the winning margins when they sometimes occur.
In footnote 7 we noted that racial stereotype evaluations could be an important factor to control for in these models. We added such a variable to the model using the 2012 data and found that in addition to it not being statistically significant, it also did not change the substantive meaning of the results. We report the complete model in Appendix D in the supplemental material online.
We estimated the models in Table 3 using Mplus. To estimate the predicted averages, we took the coefficients for White identity and Presidential approval from the Mplus output and fed them into Stata’s structural equation model program and then used the predict command to generate the predicted score averages and variances which we report here.
Brewer (1999) argues that, “…[I]ngroup favoritism and outgroup prejudice are separable phenomena and that the origin of identification and attachment to ingroups is independent of intergroup conflict,” (p. 430).
Both variables are coded to range between 0 and 1, so the coefficients are comparable.
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Petrow, G.A., Transue, J.E. & Vercellotti, T. Do White In-group Processes Matter, Too? White Racial Identity and Support for Black Political Candidates. Polit Behav 40, 197–222 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-017-9422-8
- Vote choice
- White racial identity
- Racial Resentment
- Barack Obama
- Race and elections
- Presidential approval
- Social identity