Posted on January 3, 2020
B. Kal Munis et al, Washington Post, January 2, 2020
Many observers have noted that Biden’s supporters are a diverse coalition, including older white and black voters. But using data from our new survey, we’ve found a new factor related to support for the former vice president — what social scientists call “white consciousness.”
What we already knew about Biden supporters
Biden’s support is high among older voters and those who believe deeply in the goodness of ordinary people. Black voters appear to associate him with Barack Obama’s presidency. Interestingly, white voters who measure high in racially resentful attitudes appear to see him as their representative as well.
What is ‘white consciousness’?
White consciousness refers to a belief among whites that their status in American society is under threat and that they must use collective political action to overcome this threat.
Most commonly, therefore, white consciousness is linked to support for President Trump. Our data shows that white consciousness also matters for Democratic Party politics.
We surveyed 2,094 white individuals, of whom 794, or roughly 38 percent, identified as Democrats.
To measure white consciousness, we use the four-item behavioral scale measure below. Alongside each question, in parentheses, we give the percentage of white Democrats whose answers showed high levels of white consciousness.
1. How important is it that whites work together to improve the position of their group? (very important = 19 percent; extremely important = 11 percent)
2. How important is it that whites work together to change laws that are unfair to whites? (very important = 18 percent; extremely important = 13 percent)
3. How likely is it that many whites are unable to find a job because employers are hiring minorities instead? (very likely = 12 percent; extremely likely = 8 percent)
4. How likely is it that many whites are not accepted to some colleges because these colleges are admitting minorities instead? (very likely = 11 percent; extremely likely = 9 percent)
Taking these questions together, we conclude that 20 percent of the Democrats in our sample harbor high overall levels of white consciousness.
We find that white consciousness is significantly associated with support for Biden. Even after accounting for other factors, Democratic voters with the highest levels of white consciousness rate Biden eight points more positively than those without white consciousness — that’s on average on a 101-point scale.
White consciousness is not associated with support for any other candidate in the Democratic field included in our survey.
Biden straddles an interesting divide in the Democratic Party. He appeals strongly to black voters — and to whites who don’t identify with the Black Lives Matter branch of the party.