Posted on November 14, 2021

Why White Voters With Racist Views Often Still Support Black Republicans

Hakeem Jefferson and Michael Tesler, FiveThirtyEight, November 10, 2021

Can white voters who back a Black candidate still hold racist beliefs and views?

That question has come to the fore in the wake of Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in the blueish state of Virginia. Conservatives were quick to counter claims that Youngkin’s win represented the effectiveness of stoking racial fears with results from Virginia’s down-ballot election for lieutenant governor — a contest where the Republican candidate, Winsome Sears, made history by becoming the first Black woman elected to statewide office in Virginia. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, for example, emphatically mocked the notion that “voters called white supremacists elected a Black Lt. Gov.” Conservative commentators on Fox News and Twitter, including Sears herself, also used the historic victory as an ostensible shield against accusations of Republican racism.

But supporting a Black candidate hardly precludes voters from harboring racist beliefs and motivations. Republicans are increasingly more likely than Democrats to hold prejudiced views of minorities, so Black Republicans like Sears often draw especially strong support from white Americans with otherwise anti-Black views simply because they draw most of their support from Republican voters.

A clear example of this was in the 2016 Republican presidential primary, when Ben Carson made a bid to become the GOP’s first African American presidential nominee. Support for Carson was positively correlated with the belief that Black Americans have too much influence on U.S. politics, according to data from Washington University in St. Louis’s American Panel Survey (TAPS) in late 2015:

Whites who thought African Americans had “far too little” influence disliked Carson and preferred Hillary Clinton by 60 percentage points in a hypothetical general election matchup. Meanwhile, Carson was very popular among whites who were most concerned about African Americans having “too much” influence in politics. So much so that whites who thought African Americans have “far too much” influence preferred Carson to Clinton by 45 points.


You can see a similar pattern in the January 2016 American National Election Studies Pilot Study. Carson received more favorable evaluations among the sizable minority (40 percent) of overtly prejudiced whites who agreed with the racist stereotype that “most African Americans are more violent than most whites.” This group rated Carson significantly more favorably on a 0-100 scale than the white moderate Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush (52 to 39, respectively). Then-candidate Donald Trump was the only politician in the survey who was rated higher than Carson among overtly prejudiced whites.

The contrast between how prejudiced whites rated Carson and Obama is rather revealing, as well. The sharp negative relationship between support for Obama and the endorsement of anti-Black stereotypes is consistent with several studies showing that prejudice was an unusually strong predictor of opposition to Obama from the 2008 election through the end of his presidency. These patterns also fit well with other political science research showing that racially prejudiced whites tend to be more opposed to Black Democrats than to white Democrats.

To make sense of why racially prejudiced white Americans are willing to support some Black candidates, it is worth considering why they so strongly oppose Black Democrats in the first place. Given the racialized nature of the two-party system in the United States, most Black political candidates are Democrats who embrace liberal positions on issues of race and justice. When asked whether they would support such a candidate, research shows that racially prejudiced white voters worry that these candidates will represent the interests of Black Americans, both because of a shared African American identity and because Democrats are perceived as the party more supportive of Black interests. {snip}


Black Republicans, on the other hand, are perceived differently by racially prejudiced white Americans. Their embrace of the Republican Party and its conservative ideology help assure racially prejudiced whites that, unlike Black Democrats, they are not in the business of carrying water for their own racial group. {snip}