Archive for June, 2012


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This is, of course the Obama family’s dog, Bo.

Apparently, whether you think Bo is cute or not can be influenced by your racial attitudes.  That’s the conclusion drawn by political scientists at Brown university, who are engaged in a series of long-range studies attempting to measure the degree to which Americans’ political attitudes are racialized.  (One of their number, Michael Tesler, has published accessible summaries of their work on the blog YouGov.com.  You’ll probably get to the site quicker by searching for his name, since the site is huge).

These researchers have developed a fairly reliable series of questions that determine the relative strength of racial attitudes in the people they tested.  Although racialized attitudes occur on a spectrum, for analytic convenience the researchers sorted out the folks they call “racial conservatives” from “racial liberals” at each end of the spectrum.  They then showed the entire group a picture of Bo.  But half of the group were told that the photo was of Ted Kennedy’s dog, Splash, also a Portuguese water dog.

You know what’s  coming.  The racial conservatives were less enamored of the dog when they thought his master was Barack Obama.  This general principle held across each group’s answers to a whole series of questions.  The research showed, for example, that during the 2008 Democratic primary, support for Obama was higher among racial liberals, while racial conservatives preferred Hilary (in other words, racially liberal folks  supported Obama, at least in part, because he is black).  On the flip side, of course, is the fact that the association of the ACA with Obama (as in “Obamacare”) makes it less popular among racial conservatives than it might otherwise be.

The researchers take pains to point out they are not measuring racism, nor are they calling anyone “racist.”  Among other things, their work shows that less-informed voters are more inclined to deploy racial attitudes in forming their attitudes toward policy, such as the ACA, than are those who know something about its provisions.  In other words, racist attitudes are in wide circulation, and thus they are there to be resorted to when voters don’t know enough to make a judgement on other grounds.

The researchers also discovered that those who believe that structural inequality is built into the system are far more likely to score as racially liberal  than are those who believe that inequality results from a lack of individual effort (as in “everybody knows that [group X] is a pack of lazy bums.”) Given the extent to which conservatism now controls our national discourse, a white American has to be pretty thoughtful to understand the extent and depth of structural inequality that is built into our economic and judicial systems.  Because she sure as shit ain’t gonna learn it in school.

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Charlie Casts His Vote

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