Race Matters, But Not to Whom You Think

by John Sides on September 12, 2012 · 5 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Public opinion

Although it is true that whites without college degrees are more likely to view African Americans as “lazy” or to express racial resentment, analyses of data from nationally-representative surveys indicate that whites who hold negative racial beliefs are twice as likely to oppose welfare if they have college degrees than if they do not. Put another way, given two white people, one who went to college and one who didn’t, the former is more likely to express his racial hostility politically in the form of greater opposition to welfare.

From a New York Times piece by Christopher Federico, Howard Lavine, and Christopher Johnston.  It pushes back against one of the most durable of stereotypes: that less-educated or lower class voters are somehow most influenced by racial bias.  Why would certain views of better educated people be more tied to their feelings about blacks?

The simple answer is that education imparts social and political knowledge that prepares people to better read the signals provided by political leaders and the mass media.

More, including other relevant research, at the link.


Andrew Gelman September 12, 2012 at 10:31 am


Who is “you” in your headline? That is, is there evidence that there is some group of people who think that that less-educated or lower class voters are somehow most influenced by racial bias? The reason I ask is that I thought it was well known that social issues are more predictive of vote choice among higher-income voters, and racial issues are often categorized as social issues.

CDJ September 12, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Hi Andrew,
Your comment piqued my interest in examining the relationship between implicit racial bias among whites and the vote in 2008 across income (which I have not previously done). The results from this very quick look actually run counter to your point here (and our op-ed!). One election, one measure of racial bias, etc. etc…but perhaps things are not so simple with respect to this relationship.


will September 12, 2012 at 12:25 pm

Racialized issues affect those with *low*racial resentment too. Some of the graphs I’ve seen here show more movement at that end of the scale, and I think it was documented that some white voters voted *for* Obama *because* of his race. You won’t see an effect on those who are already liberal down the line, but on someone like my mother who has a pro-business anti-union streak left over from her Republican upbringing but had an epiphany reading Malcolm X in high school, strongly supports affirmative action, thought Jeremiah Wright had a point.

Ryan Enos September 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm

In a certain respect, this isn’t surprising – the low educated, bigot exists mostly in the imagination of liberal elites. Why liberal elites are so ready to think that their opponents are low-education bigots is an interesting question in itself, but we can go all the way back to V.O. Key and see that it was elites in the South that were committed, for whatever reason, to bigoted policies.

On a more basic level, connecting welfare to African Americans isn’t obvious, it requires a certain amount of political sophistication to link those two attitude objects, so we shouldn’t be surprised that education, which proxies for political sophistication, will link those two things into what we recognize as a coherent ideology. It is all very Conversian.

Babak September 12, 2012 at 8:41 pm

What about less-educated whites being more likely to receive welfare themselves or know people who do? Would that not be a factor to consider?

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