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The Inseparability of Race and Partisanship in the United States

Abstract

Many recent studies consider the overlapping nature of major political identities. Drawing on this research, we posit that partisanship and race are so enmeshed in the public mind that events which independently trigger one of these identities can also activate the other. We find support for this in three behavioral game experiments with 5496 respondents. These studies reveal what we refer to as the “parallel updating” of out-group affect. Shifts in racial affect are accompanied by simultaneous movement in attitudes and behavior towards members of the other political party. Conversely, changes in partisan affect co-occur with movement in views of racial out-groups. Our results speak to the inseparability of racial and partisan affect in the United States and suggest an important link between studies of racial animus and partisan affective polarization.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We limit the scope of this paper to whites and African Americans. Historically these two racial groups are at the core of partisan and racial tensions and they therefore represent the cleanest test of our model.

  2. 2.

    Gender was either ‘Male’ or ‘Female’, age was drawn between 25 and 35, and income was drawn from four brackets: ‘$30,000–$39,999’, ‘$40,000–$49,999’, ‘$50,000 –$59,999’, and ‘$60,000–$69,999.’

  3. 3.

    If they missed a comprehension question, participants were given the answer and asked the questions again. Those failing the questions three times were removed from the survey.

  4. 4.

    We added income as a reason to make our treatment less obvious.

  5. 5.

    The sample included quotas to approximate age and gender benchmarks from the American Community Survey.

  6. 6.

    In our robustness tests we show that this additional information has no effect our results, meaning that participants are making an implicit internal connection between race and party and are neither imputing or relying on explicitly provided information.

  7. 7.

    We also collected feeling thermometers after the additional game grounds, though we believe they are not appropriate for comparison to Study 1 because of the additional time and interaction between treatment and measurement. Nonetheless, they show results that are substantively and significantly consistent with Study 1

  8. 8.

    We find less evidence of this concern in Study 2 and 3.

  9. 9.

    See the supporting materials for details on the questions included in this scale.

  10. 10.

    Results are similar when using the raw measure.

  11. 11.

    We show that this is also the case for Study 2 and Study 3 in the supporting materials.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Dan Butler, Justin Grimmer, Daniel Hopkins, Shanto Iyengar, Yphtach Lelkes, Jonathan Mummolo, and conference participants at UCSD, University of Pennsylvania and Facebook for helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Sean J. Westwood.

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Replication data and scripts are on the Political Behavior Dataverse: https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/IXOMN4.

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Westwood, S.J., Peterson, E. The Inseparability of Race and Partisanship in the United States. Polit Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-020-09648-9

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Keywords

  • Polarization
  • Affect
  • Social identity