Leading up to the 2008 U.S. election, pundits wondered whether Whites, particularly in Southern states, were ready to vote for a Black president. The present paper explores how a common Southern symbol–the Confederate flag–impacted willingness to vote for Barack Obama. We predicted that exposure to the Confederate flag would activate negativity toward Blacks and result in lowered willingness to vote for Obama. As predicted, participants primed with the Confederate flag reported less willingness to vote for Obama than those primed with a neutral symbol. The flag did not affect willingness to vote for White candidates. In a second study, participants primed with the Confederate flag evaluated a hypothetical Black target more negatively than controls. These results suggest that exposure to the Confederate flag results in more negative judgments of Black targets. As such, the prevalence of this flag in the South may have contributed to a reticence for some to vote for Obama because of his race.
In Study 1, we examined the effect of Confederate flag exposure on willingness to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 election. After manipulating exposure to the Confederate flag, we asked White and Black participants to report their likelihood of voting for four candidates who, at the time the study began, had active campaigns for President of the United States–Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and Mike Huckabee. By asking participants to make judgments about all four candidates, we were able to explore whether individuals exposed to the Confederate flag made more negative judgments of a Black target, relative to White targets, independent of the candidates’ party affiliation. We predicted that White participants exposed to the Confederate flag would report a lower likelihood of voting for the Black candidate (Obama) compared to the three White candidates. We also explored whether the effect of exposure to the Confederate flag on willingness to vote for Obama interacted with Southern identity. Southerners might hold stronger associations with the Confederate flag than non-Southerners by virtue of increased exposure. If so, we would expect that the effect of exposure to the Confederate flag on judgments of Blacks would be particularly strong for those who identify as Southerners.