Advertisement

Race and the Race for the White House: On Social Research in the Age of Trump

  • Musa al Gharbi
Article

Abstract

As it became clear that Donald Trump had a real base of political support, even as analysts consistently underestimated his electoral prospects, they grew increasingly fascinated with the question of who was supporting him (and why). However, researchers have also tended to hold strong negative opinions about Trump, and have approached research with uncharitable priors about the kind of person who would support him and what they would be motivated by. This essay presents a series of case studies showing how analyses of the roles of race and racism in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election seem to have been systematically distorted as a result. However, motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, prejudicial study design, and failure to address confounds are not limited to questions about race (a similar essay could have been done on the alleged role of sexism/ misogyny in the 2016 cycle, for instance). And while Trump does seem to generate particularly powerful antipathy from researchers – perhaps exacerbating negative tendencies – ideologically-driven errors likely permeate a good deal of social research. Presented evidence suggests that research with strong adversarial or advocacy orientations may be most susceptible to systemic distortion. Activist scholars and their causes may also be among those most adversely impacted by the resultant erosion of research reliability and credibility. Ultimately, however, these are problems which all social scientists must remain vigilant against, and which we all have a stake in working to address.

Keywords

Sociology of knowledge Political sociology 2016 Election Donald Trump Political bias Race / racism 

Notes

Acknowledgements

There were many people who provided essential feedback and advice for this work at different stages in its development. It would be impossible to thank everyone. However, I would be remiss if I did not flag a handful of scholars who were particularly important for bringing this essay to fruition. At my home department, Columbia University Sociology, Shamus Khan and Diane Vaughn played critical roles in helping me develop and refine the argument and framing. Daniel D’Amico of Brown University’s Political Theory Project also provided very helpful feedback and encouragement in the formative stage of this project. Finally, I would like to thank Heterodox Academy for workshopping the paper with a group of scholars from different disciplinary and ideological backgrounds. I am particularly indebted to Jonathan Haidt (NYU Stern), Deb Mashek (Psychology, Harvey Mudd), Chris Martin (Sociology, Emory University) and Raffi Grinberg (Carroll School of Management, Boston College) for their questions, comments and criticisms in that process.

References

  1. Abbott, A. (1988). The system of professions: an essay on the division of expert labor. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Abbott, A. (2016). Processual sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Abbott, A. (2018). Varieties of normative inquiry: moral alternatives to politicization in sociology. The American Sociologist.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12108-017-9367-8.
  4. Achen, C., & Bartels, L. (2016). Democracy for realists: why elections do not produce responsive government. Princeton: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Alexander, S. (2016). You’re still crying wolf. Slate Star Codex. November 16.Google Scholar
  6. al-Gharbi, M. (2015a). The case for an unprincipled foreign policy. Wilson Quarterly 39(3).Google Scholar
  7. al-Gharbi, M. (2015b). White people are not the enemy. Salon, 25 August.Google Scholar
  8. al-Gharbi, M. (2016a). From political liberalism to para-liberalism: epistemological pluralism, cognitive liberalism & authentic choice. Comparative Philosophy, 7(2), 1–25.Google Scholar
  9. al-Gharbi, M. (2016b). Hillary’s atrocious race record: her stances over decades have been painful and wrong. Salon, 3 April.Google Scholar
  10. al-Gharbi, M. (2017a). Trump will likely win reelection in 2020. The Conversation, 28 November.Google Scholar
  11. al-Gharbi, M. (2017b). The democratic party is facing a demographic crisis. The Conversation, 28 February.Google Scholar
  12. al-Gharbi, M. (2017c). A lack of ideological diversity is killing social research. Times Higher Education, 2298, 27–28.Google Scholar
  13. al-Gharbi, M. (2018). Comparing faulty representation across gender, sexuality, race and ideology. Times Higher Education, 29 March 2018.Google Scholar
  14. Anderson, C. (2014). Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s about white rage against progress. Washington Post. August 29.Google Scholar
  15. Anderson, C. (2017). White rage: the unspoken truth of our racial divide. New York: Bloomsbury USA.Google Scholar
  16. Atran, S. (2012). God and the ivory tower. Foreign Policy. August 6.Google Scholar
  17. Avishai, O., Gerber, L., & Randles, J. (2013). The feminist ethnographer’s dilemma: reconciling progressive research agendas with fieldwork realities. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42(4), 394–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ball, M. (2017). On safari in Trump’s America. The Atlantic. October 23.Google Scholar
  19. Bonczar, T. (2003). Prevalence of imprisonment in the U.S. population, 1974–2001. Bureau of Justice Statistics. August.Google Scholar
  20. Bonilla-Silva, E. (2017). Racism without racists: color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  21. Coates, T.-N. (2017a). My president was black. The Atlantic. January/ February Issue.Google Scholar
  22. Coates, T.-N. (2017b). The first white president. The Atlantic. October Issue.Google Scholar
  23. Coates, T.-N. (2017c). We were eight years in power: an American tragedy. New York: One World.Google Scholar
  24. Cohn, N. (2016). Why Trump won: working-class whites. New York Times. November 9.Google Scholar
  25. Connolly, N.D.B. & Blain, K. (2016). Trump syllabus 2.0: an introduction to the American culture that led to ‘Trumpism’. Public Books. June 28.Google Scholar
  26. Duarte, J., Crawford, J., Stern, C., & Haidt, J. (2014). Political diversity will improve social psychological science. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 38, 1–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dunleavy, P., Bastow, S., & Tinkler, J. (2014). The contemporary social sciences are now converging strongly with STEM disciplines in the study of ‘human-dominated systems’ and ‘human-influenced systems’. LSE Impact Blog. January 20. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/01/20/social-sciences-converging-with-stem-disciplines/.
  28. Engber, D. (2017). Daryl Bem proved ESP is real (Which MEANS Science is Broken). Slate. May 17.Google Scholar
  29. Eveleth, R. (2014). Academics write papers arguing over how many people read (and Cite) their papers. Smithsonian. March 25.Google Scholar
  30. Fang, L. (2015). Clinton, Rubio, Cruz receive foreign policy advice from the same consulting firm. The Intercept. December 18.Google Scholar
  31. Flynn, D. J., Nyhan, B., & Reifler, J. (2017). The nature and origins of misperceptions: understanding false and unsupported beliefs about politics. Advances in Political Psychology, 38(S1), 127–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Foa, R. (2016). It’s the globalization, stupid. Foreign Policy. December 6.Google Scholar
  33. Gaouette, N. (2016). The Democrats’ Republican moment. CNN. July 30.Google Scholar
  34. Gelman, A. (2017). The piranha problem in social psychology/behavioral economics: the ‘Take a Pill’ model of science eats itself. Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference & Social Science. December 15. http://andrewgelman.com/2017/12/15/piranha-problem-social-psychology-behavioral-economics-button-pushing-model-science-eats/
  35. Goldberg, Z. (2018). Serwer error: misunderstanding trump voters. Quilette. January 1.Google Scholar
  36. Goodman, A.. (2017). Emory Professor Carol Anderson on ‘White Rage: the unspoken truth of our racial divide’. Democracy Now. May 5.Google Scholar
  37. Grandin, G. (2016). Hillary Clinton’s embrace of kissinger is inexcusable. The Nation. August 9.Google Scholar
  38. Gray, B. J. (2018). The problem with calling Trump a racist. Rolling Stone. January 23.Google Scholar
  39. Groves, R., & Peytcheva, E. (2008). The impact of non-response rates on non-response bias: a meta-analysis. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72(2), 167–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hamid, S. (2016). There is no ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ America. Washington Post. November 18.Google Scholar
  41. Harzing, A.-W., & Alakangas, S. (2016). Google scholar, scopus and web of science: a longitudinal and cross-disciplinary comparison. Scientometrics, 106(2), 787–804.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hatemi, P., & McDermott, R. (2016). Give me attitudes. Annual Review of Political Science, 19, 331–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Henry, P. J., & Napier, J. (2017). Education is related to greater ideological prejudice. Public Opinion Quarterly, 81(4), 930–942.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hersh, E. (2017). Political hobbyism: a theory of mass behavior. Working Paper, 9 March.Google Scholar
  45. Hochschild, A. (2016a). Strangers in their own land: anger and mourning on the american right. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
  46. Hochschild, A. (2016b). I spent 5 years with some of trump’s biggest fans. Here’s what they won’t tell you. Mother Jones. September/October Issue.Google Scholar
  47. Hochschild, A. (2016c). The ecstatic edge of politics: sociology and Donald Trump. Contemporary Sociology, 45(6), 683–689.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Holley, P., & Larimer, S. (2016). How America’s dying white supremacist movement is seizing on Donald Trump’s appeal. Washington Post. February 29.Google Scholar
  49. Horgan, J.. (2013). Is ‘Social Science’ an oxymoron? Will that ever change? Scientific American. April 4.Google Scholar
  50. Ioannidis, J. (2005). Why most published research findings are false. PLoS Medicine., 2(8) e124, 696–701.Google Scholar
  51. Jerolmack, C., & Khan, S. (2014). Talk is cheap: ethnography and the attitudinal fallacy. Sociological Methods & Research, 43(2), 178–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Jilani, Z., Emmons, A., & LaChance, N. (2016). Hillary Clinton’s national security advisers are a ‘Who’s Who’ of the warfare State. The Intercept. September 8.Google Scholar
  53. Jones, J. (2017). Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton retain most admired titles. Gallup. December 27.Google Scholar
  54. Joslyn, M., & Haider-Markel, D. (2014). Who knows best? Education, partisanship, and contested facts. Politics & Policy, 42(6), 919–947.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Kahan, D. (2013). Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection: an experimental study. Judgment and Decision making, 8(4), 407–424.Google Scholar
  56. Kahan, D., & Braman, D. (2006). Cultural cognition and public policy. Yale Law & Policy Review, 24(1), 149–172.Google Scholar
  57. Kinder, D., & Kalmoe, N. (2017). Neither Liberal Nor conservative: ideological innocence in the American public. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  58. Koehler, J. (1993). The influence of prior beliefs on scientific judgment of evidence quality. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 56(1), 28–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Kriner, D., & Shen, F. (2017). Battlefield casualties and ballot box defeat: did bush-obama wars cost clinton the White House? SSRN. June 20.Google Scholar
  60. Latour, B. (1988). Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  61. Lehrer, J. (2009). Accept defeat: the neuroscience of screwing up. Wired. December 21.Google Scholar
  62. Levinovitz, A. (2016). The new astrology. Aeon. April 4.Google Scholar
  63. Lozada, C. (2016). A Berkeley sociologist made some tea-party friends–and wrote a condescending book about them. Washington Post. September 1.Google Scholar
  64. Ludeke, S., Klitgaard, C., & Vitriol, J. (2018). Comprehensively-measured authoritarianism does predict vote choice: the importance of authortiarianism’s facets, ideological sorting, and the particular candidate. Personality and Individual Differences, 123, 209–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. MacWilliams, M. (2016). The one weird trait that predicts whether you’re a Trump supporter. Politico. January 17.Google Scholar
  66. Mahoney, M. (1977). Publication prejudices: an experimental study of confirmatory bias in the peer review system. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 1(2), 161–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Martin, C. (2016). How ideology has hindered sociological insight. The American Sociologist, 47(1), 115–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Martinez, R. (2017). A politics of compassion: an interview with Van Jones. Pacific Standard. August 1.Google Scholar
  69. McWhorter, J. (2015). Antiracism, our flawed new religion. The Daily Beast. July 27.Google Scholar
  70. Meadow, T. (2013). Studying each other: on agency, constraint and positionality in the field. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42(4), 466–481.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Mellnik, T., Muyskens, J., Soffen, K., & Clement, S. (2017). That big wave of less-educated white voters? It never happened. Washington Post. May 10.Google Scholar
  72. Merton, R. (1972). Insiders and outsiders: a chapter in the sociology of knowledge. American Journal of Sociology, 78(1), 9–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Munafo, M., Nosek, B., Bishop, D., Button, K., Chambers, C., du Sert, N. P., Simonsohn, U., Wagenmakers, E.-J., Ware, J., & Ioannidis, J. (2017). A manifesto for reproducible science. Nature: Human Behavior, 1, 21.Google Scholar
  74. Norton, B. (2016). Another neocon endorses Clinton, calling her ‘2016’s real conservative’ and ‘the candidate of the status quo’. Salon. June 10.Google Scholar
  75. Polanyi, M. (1974). Personal knowledge: towards a post-critical philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  76. Randall, D. (2017). Beach books: 2016–7. what do colleges and universities want students to read outside class? National Association of Scholars. May.Google Scholar
  77. Ray, R. (2017). A case of internal colonialism? Arlie Hochschild’s strangers in their own land. British Journal of Sociology, 68(1), 129–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Remler, D. (2014). Are 90% of academic papers really never cited? Reviewing the literature on academic citations. LSE Impact Blog. April 23.Google Scholar
  79. RePass, D. (2008). Searching for Voters along the liberal-conservative continuum: the infrequent ideologue and the missing middle. The Forum, 6(2), 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Roarty, A. (2017). Democrats say they now know exactly why Clinton lost in 2016. Sydney Morning Herald, May 1.Google Scholar
  81. Rorty, R. (1994). Achieving our country: leftist thought in the twentieth century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  82. Roy, N., & Siu, D. (2017). Ta-Nehisi coates to teach at NYU. Washington Square News. January 31.Google Scholar
  83. Samuelsohn, D. (2016). The rise of Trump studies. Politico. April 22.Google Scholar
  84. Schmidt, M. (2016). Obama says he would have defeated Trump for a third term. New York Times. December 26.Google Scholar
  85. Serwer, A. (2017). The Nationalist’s delusion. Atlantic. November 20.Google Scholar
  86. Shema, H. (2012). On self-citation. Scientific American. July 24.Google Scholar
  87. Shi, F., Teplitskiy, M., Duede, E., & Evans, J. (2017). The wisdom of polarized crowds. ArXiv. November 29.Google Scholar
  88. Sides, J. (2013). About the monkey cage. Washington Post. September 19.Google Scholar
  89. Smith, C. (2014). The sacred project of american sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Smith, J. (2017). The education of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Chronicle of Higher Education. October 2.Google Scholar
  91. Sniderman, P., & Tetlock, P. (1986). Symbolic Racism: Problems of Motive Attribution in Political Analysis. Journal of Social Issues, 42(2), 129–150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Somin, I. (2016). Democracy and political ignorance: why smaller government is smarter. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  93. Stampnitzky, L. (2013). Disciplining terror: how experts invented ‘Terrorism’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  94. Stanovich, K. (2017). Were Trump voters irrational? Quilette. September 28.Google Scholar
  95. Taleb, N. (2010). The narrative fallacy. Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable (62–84). New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  96. Tesler, M. (2016). President Obama can thank donald trump and hillary clinton for his growing popularity. Washington Post. July 13.Google Scholar
  97. Tetlock, P. (1994). Political psychology or politicized psychology: is the road to scientific hell paved with good moral intentions? Political Psychology, 15(3), 509–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Tetlock, P. (2017). Expert political judgement: how good is it? How can we know? Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  99. Thrush, G., & McCaskill, N. (2016). Obama says Clinton didn’t work as hard as he did. Politico, 14 November.Google Scholar
  100. Times Higher Education. (2017). New York University. 2017 World University Rankings. Google Scholar
  101. U.S. Census Bureau. (2017). Reported voting and registration, by race, hispanic origin, sex, and age, for the United States: November 2016. Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2016.Google Scholar
  102. Uhrmacher, K., Schaul, K., & Keating, D. (2016). These former Obama strongholds sealed the election for Trump. Washington Post. November 9.Google Scholar
  103. Van Bavel, J., & Pereira, A. (2018). The Partisan brain: an identity-based model of political belief. PsyArXiv. January 12.Google Scholar
  104. Voorhees, J. (2016). New poll finds that hillary supporters are pretty racist too. Slate. June 29.Google Scholar
  105. Watters, E. (2011). Crazy like us: the globalization of the american psyche. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  106. West, R. F., Meserve, R., & Stanovich, K. (2012). Cognitive sophistication does not attenuate the bias blind spot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 103(3), 506–519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. Williams, J. (2017). White working class: overcoming class cluelessness in America. Cambridge: Harvard Business Review Press.Google Scholar
  108. Wilson, W., & Chadda, A. (2009). The role of theory in ethnographic research. Ethnography, 10(4), 549–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  109. Wilson, T., DePaulo, B., Mook, D., & Klaaren, K. (1993). Scientists’ evaluation of research: the biasing effects of the importance of the topic. Psychological Science, 4(5), 322–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  110. Wood, T. (2017). Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism. Washington Post. April 17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations