Posted on September 18, 2020

Identity Politics Can Help Biden Win in November

Christopher Stout, Washington Post, September 17, 2020


{snip} Conventional wisdom holds that explicitly reaching out to Blacks alienates White voters. As recently as 2016, several academics and political pundits argued that Hillary Clinton’s focus on people of color cost her working-class White voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, leading to her surprising defeat. Many believed that the Democratic Party should abandon identity politics if it hoped to regain the White House.

But American attitudes have changed dramatically over the past four years, from the resurgence of Black Lives Matter to exacerbated political polarization. In my new book, “The Case for Identity Politics: Polarization, Demographic Change, and Racial Appeals,” I argue that because of increased political polarization and demographic changes, politicians can actually boost their chances of winning by making progressive racial appeals. {snip}


{snip} I examined more than 30 years of political attitudes from numerous data sources, including the American National Election Studies (ANES), the General Social Survey, the Pew Research Center, an online survey experiment and Google Trends.

To find out whether and how voters’ responses to racially liberal politicians has changed over time, I did a two-part analysis. First, to understand voters’ perceptions of racial ideology, I analyzed answers to this ANES question:

Some people feel that the government in Washington should make every effort to improve the social and economic position of blacks. Suppose these people are at one end of a scale, at point 7. Others feel that the government should not make any special effort to help blacks because they should help themselves. Suppose these people are at the other end, at point 1 ….
Where would you place [current Democratic presidential candidate] on this scale?


{snip} I found no evidence that seeing Clinton as racially liberal influenced White, Black or Latinx voters to vote either for or against her in the general election. Presumably, that’s because in an increasingly polarized country, both Democrats and Republicans were prepared to vote for their party’s candidate no matter what.

Nor did I find evidence that either White Republicans or political independents reacted against Hillary Clinton for appearing racially progressive. Rather, White working-class voters who already had high levels of racial resentment appear to have been motivated by Trump’s explicit racial appeals in 2016 — voting for Trump rather than voting against Clinton.

Overall, these results suggest that Democratic candidates who appear more racially liberal will mobilize supportive voters without inviting backlash.


These trends have only strengthened since 2016. My book shows that Black and Latinx voters have had a surge in racial/ethnic group consciousness {snip} As a result, I find they have increasingly responded to racial outreach in recent years.

Meanwhile, Whites who’ve remained with the Democratic Party have become more racially liberal, pushed by both the Black Lives Matter movement and the Democratic Party’s growing commitment to racial equity. {snip}

The combination of these factors, along with changes to U.S. demography, has given politicians incentives to take racial issues more seriously.