Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Political Psychology of Race and Gender - Obama's Real Problem!

I found this article and for me it answers a lot of the questions I've had personally as to why Pastor Wright is in the news and why he's getting the reaction he is......

Click to read the article in it's entirety

Expertinent: The Political Psychology of Race and Gender

Wednesday, March 12, 2008 5:30 PM **the day before the "Wright Controversy"**
By Andrew Romano

Expertinent is a regular Stumper column featuring interviews with experts on the news of the day.

Talk about good timing. A week ago, Cornell law student Gregory S. Parks emailed me a law review article that he had just coauthored with university professor Jeffrey Rachlinski. The subject? "Unconscious race and gender bias in the 2008 election." In addition to their legal studies, both Parks and Rachlinski (whose academic efforts have focused on the influence of human psychology on decision-making by courts, administrative agencies and regulated communities) boast Ph.Ds in psychology. On Monday, I decided to call them up for a chat. The next day, of course, race and gender consumed the national conversation (yet again) when Clinton supporter and former vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro told a California newspaper that "if Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." Revisiting my conversation with Parks and Rachlinski this morning, I realized that many of the questions we covered--who's battling the more difficult biases? is the 'victim pose' politically helpful? what should we expect in the general election?--are precisely the questions that everyone is asking in the wake of the Ferraro flap. Thus, I defer to the experts:

How about Obama?
R: Obama has a tougher job. The biases against African Americans are just a raw animus in a lot of ways. What you see in the studies is that people associate black with negative imagery, just wholesale, without regard to specific content. Blacks are bad, whites are good. You see it over and over in the unconscious bias literature. So what does he have to fight? He has to fight against being black in a way. He has to have people look at him and associate him with the positive imagery that Americans tend to associate with whites. It's not surprising, then, that his campaign is about very amorphous goals like hope and aspiration. That's the message that can work, because he can't embrace black issues without activating unconscious biases in white voters. That's very difficult to begin with.

On the other hand, Obama risks raising specific concerns among his core supporters--notably, African-Americans--if he fights too hard against being black. There's a specific in-group favoritism among African-Americans--a favorable, explicit self-image that's stronger than what you see among whites. When a black leader seems to be running away from his image as a black person, that's viewed negatively. In order to keep his base, then, he can't deny that he's black. It's a thin line that he has to toe.

You said before that "credentials help white applicants a lot more than they help black applicants." Does that mean that Obama shouldn't recite specific accomplishments and resume points?
R: The data suggests that it doesn't help black job applicants, and that it wouldn't help him. According to the research, adding resume credentials helps white applicants much more than black applicants. So if his campaign starts to be about what he's done, it won't help.

What about Obama (in the general election)?
R: He faces fewer white voters who like or care about the idea of a post-racial future. Liberal Democrats like the idea that someday race won't matter; Independents and Republicans, not as much. There's good data showing that Republicans harbor stronger negative implicit biases towards African-Americans than Democrats. So he's got to fight those biases a good deal more than he does among Democratic voters, and liberals are no longer enough. The other problem for Obama in the general election is that strong link between "black" and "foreign."

P: There was a study that came out a couple of years ago titled "American Equals White." And what it showed was that at the implicit level people tend to correlate whiteness with Americanness as opposed to blackness with Americanness. What's more, studies of the 2008 election have shown that when you prime individuals with images of the American flag--at a subliminal level, so you just flash is for a millisecond--it has a tendency to make white individuals show less liking toward Barack Obama. This harkens back to question of Obama not wearing the American flag pin and the accusations that he failed to put his hand over his heart during the singing of the national anthem. This stuff is tricky for him, especially considering that some opponents are questioning his patriotism. If images of Americanness make white Americans see Obama as less American at the implicit level--while at the explicit level rivals are questioning his patriotism--then he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.

Is there anything to be gained by either campaign accusing their opponents of being sexist or racist? It seems to happen every day now. Does the 'victimhood pose' help in any way?
P: Obama, for one, cannot afford to address these things head on. If he gets up and says XYZ is racist and calls people on the carpet about race issues, it will only hurt him. The data supports this view. Studies suggest that when you press people on their gender-stereotypical biases, they kind of laugh it off. Because it's not such a hot issue. They're like, "Whatever. I'm not sexist." But if you press them on their racial biases, particularly in regards to blacks, one of two things happens. If they're low on explicit racial prejudice, they become contrite, apologetic, they want to know what they can do to overcome it. But if they are high on explicit racial bias, they become angry and antagonistic. When you accuse whites who harbor certain levels of racism of racist behavior, it actually makes them angry towards you. And that's why Obama can't afford to push back. He has to acknowledge and affirm that he's black so as not to alienate black voters, but he can't do it in such a way as to raise anxieties among white voters.

Is the calculus different with Clinton? Her campaign has been pretty explicit about pushing back in a way that's centered on her gender, as in the incident with David Shuster at MSNBC.
R: Of course, there are more women then there are black voters, right? It doesn't make blacks angry to point out that blacks are disadvantaged by bias. It makes whites angry. The same is true of gender. In the Democratic primaries she's dealing with a more sympathetic audience among women and to some degree among men. I don't think you'll see that in the general election at all, because she'll be fighting the implicit associations between women and nurturing domestic roles rather than leadership roles. At that point, any effort to play the gender card, if you will, is going to alienate some of the voters she needs--the voters who think it's a good idea for women to stay home.

There's a real split here about implicit associations and explicit ones. The efforts to articulate concerns about racism in the way you described are explicit efforts. Look at yourself, think about it, examine the data--that's a deliberative process meant to get people to reason through the problem and confront themselves in a different way. But you can't fight implicit biases with reasoned argument. It's not how they work. They work on an intuitive, affective, emotional level. Pushing back just makes people angry. You don't see that working very well in the research. And it wouldn't work in this campaign either. Instead, the candidates should combat implicit bias implicitly--Hillary has to look like a leader all the time; Obama looks inspirational. You fight fire with fire.

Do you expect the race- and gender-baiting to get worse in the general election?
P: Even though the RNC has indicated that they are kind of scared about how to attack Hillary Clinton without charges of sexism being leveled against them, and Barack Obama without allegations of racism, you'll still have ancillary individuals and groups who will make these attacks--that, for example, Obama used drugs at one time. There's ample evidence that, at least with regards to juries, they tend to view defendants more harshly when they've committed a crime that seems racially congruent, like a black person committing a more blue-collar crime--robbery, drug dealing and so forth. If they play that up, it could be problematic for him. If they question his patriotism, again, that could be problematic for him, because it raises these implicit biases about whether he's American enough. Republicans will probably play on these things, and perhaps his relationship with his pastor Jeremiah Wright, who openly espouses a black value system, to raise implicit biases in the electorate. And I think that poses some significant challenges for Obama.

What about the "Hussein" issue? McCain himself has already said that his allies should not use Obama's middle name as a political jab.
R: But it doesn't cost McCain anything to disassociate himself from it. The unconscious bias works automatically, quickly and deductively. So you hear the name three times and the context afterwards where McCain carefully explains that this is not something he endorsed is sort of irrelevant. To the extent that saying Hussein over and over again is at all effective on voters, McCain disassociating himself doesn't undo that effect. Because it's that first system, that affective, intuitive one, that's at play.

P: It's the benefit without the burden. He can distance himself after the fact. The RNC has said that they're not going to officially make attacks on race and gender, but you can have other groups raise these concerns and it works to McCain's advantage. The other question here is how Obama and Clinton may tear themselves apart heading into the convention and the general election by raising all these questions about each other. They're provoking these implicit biases among the general electorate as we speak--and the Republican Party may not have to do much next fall.

Let's Discuss.........


Anonymous said...

Very interesting article. I just recently read something similar. I understand that human beings are really very "tribal" creatures, and perhaps that tends to perpetuate racial stereotypes. However, so many people in this country are just profoundly ignorant and subject to "group think." The popular support for the invasion of Iraq is a good example. It was based in a shocking ignorance of the realities of the world.

For me, the only answers I can come up with are (1) education, (2) media reform, and (3) positive movements for social change. We have a long way to go.

truthToPower said...

Anon... you are 100% correct.

This is the reason why i don't expect education to ever be a top priority in this country. An uneducated electorate is easily manipulated. It's interesting that Kerry also lost among those without a college education

Anonymous said...

Please check out this month's Swan article on Jeremiah Wright. It is very sympathetic and places Wright in his proper context...

Anonymous said...

I am a WASP male over 60 years old. I have a post-graduate degree from a Division I university; I am a Viet Nam era veteran; and I have been actively involved in local, state and national politics since 1968.

I do not agree with the posters who think that the United States has "discouraged" education. Obama is immediate proof of that fact.

Nor do I agree that "educated" people in America are any less biased against womnen, blacks or any other group than those with less formal education.

People are always going to be people regardless of education.