Posted on May 3, 2021

Study Shows Anti-Racist Messages Hurt Democrats

Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, April 23, 2021

Beginning about a decade ago, the Democratic Party went through two important changes related to racism. The first is that the backlash against Barack Obama made far more white liberals aware of how deeply racial resentment inspired American conservatism. {snip}

The second is that the party, which in previous years had painstakingly avoided the impression its agenda was mainly designed to help minorities, began emphasizing this very point. That change occurred in 2016, when Hillary Clinton started infusing her rhetoric with conscious appeals to racial equity. And it continued in 2020 — even though Joe Biden employed less race-conscious rhetoric than his more progressive rivals, he still cast some of his plans as explicitly anti-racist.

But is it working? Yale political scientists Micah English and Josh Kalla have found that adding explicitly race-conscious ideas to Democratic messages reduces their support. English and Kalla’s experiment borrows real-world messages from Democratic politicians and tests them with both a race-conscious component and a mix of race and class messaging. In either instance, telling subjects that a proposal would reduce racial inequity makes them less likely to support it:


This is not a completely novel finding. Vox reporter Jerusalem Demsas, working with polls from Data for Progress, found that describing measures to permit more housing construction as a way to reduce segregation and promote racial justice made respondents much less likely to support them:


The mechanism that has led Democrats to embrace race-conscious messaging seems to be entirely internal. As white liberals have grown more aware of racism, they have rewarded politicians who cater to their newfound awareness by explicitly promising racial justice. This has opened the door to redefining large swaths of the Democratic policy agenda. After all, many problems in American life disproportionately harm Black people: unemployment, lack of health insurance or child care, exposure to environmental harm, and so on. Most reforms that increase equality in general also increase racial equality.