Posted on May 12, 2020

Losing Elections, Winning the Debate: Progressive Racial Rhetoric and White Backlash

Richard Hanania, et al., PsyArXiv, 12 May 2020.


Recent years have seen liberals moving sharply to the left on issues related to race and gender, the so-called “Great Awokening,” accompanied by commentary arguing that this has led to a popular backlash against the left. Through a preregistered survey, this study polls a representative sample of white Americans to test the effect of a Democratic candidate, Kirsten Gillibrand, arguing for programs designed to help blacks and declaring the significance of white privilege in American life. Our results show that statements about white privilege decrease support for the candidate, with an effect size that is about equal to a one standard deviation shift to the right in ideology. The effect is concentrated among moderates and conservatives. Advocating reparations and affirmative action has a similar but smaller effect. At the same time, arguing for reparations actually increases support for such policies, and discussing white privilege may decrease some aspects of white identity among conservatives. The results indicate that taking more liberal positions on race causes white voters to punish a Democratic candidate. However, there is no evidence for the hypothesis that white Americans move to the right in response to such rhetoric or develop stronger feelings of white identity.