Psychophysiological Approaches to Studying the Effects of Race-Based Messages in Political Campaigns
Scholars have long recognized that racism is rooted in systemic factors that manifest in attitudinal and behavioral elements that are largely unrelated to intent or conscious recognition of prejudice or bias. Empirical researchers have worked hard to adequately tap into latent racist predispositions by devising sophisticated questionnaires and interview methods that are effective in avoiding social filters and conscious-level self-deception that is inherent in self-response survey data. Advances in technology designed to measure psychophysiological factors – functional magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography, electromyography, galvanic skin response, heart rate variability, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, post-auricular response, startle eyeblink modulation, etc. – hold promise in moving forward the state of knowledge in this field broadly, and in the area of potential effects of race-based political messages in particular. In this paper, we advance a theoretical justification for employing such techniques to capture “preconscious” responses to race-based campaign communication.
This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, March 31-April 3, 2011, Chicago, Illinois.
Tracking Trends in Minority Representation: Early Findings from the Congressional Candidate Dataset Project
Some of the most fundamental questions about the nature of representation in a democracy – including representation of women and racial minorities – can be answered by understanding the relationship amongst candidates, potential voters, and electoral outcomes. However, the lack of a comprehensive and accessible collection of relevant data has presented a challenge for political scientists who wish to explore these questions. We have been in the process of compiling a dataset that will include demographic information about each congressional candidate (date of birth, gender, race), electoral district/state (percentage of each racial designation), campaign finance and electoral outcome information for all U.S. House and Senate primary and general election contests since 1972. This paper features a descriptive account of the general election races for the U.S. House between 1972 and 2006, including correlations among some of the key variables that heretofore have not been available in one place. Findings reveal the extent to which gender and race are related to fundraising and electoral success in various electoral contexts. We discuss trends over the time period and offer suggestions for further inquiry.
This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 22-25, 2010, Chicago, Illinois.
Racial Discourse in Political Advertisements: An Historical View
We explore the extent to which and the ways in which racialized messages have been used in election campaigns that feature racial minorities. We compiled a unique database by viewing and recording information about some 1,200 political advertisements from federal election contests where at least one of the candidates was a member of a racial minority group. In this paper, we present a descriptive account of the types of messages that have been used, differentiating between racist and racial appeals and implicit and explicit messages. We also take into consideration candidates’ parties, the region of the country in which the contests took place, the year of the election, and the specific type of appeal that was made to identify trends in racialized campaign discourse over the past three decades. Results reveal that both White candidates and minorities appeal to race but in vastly different ways. Analysis includes discussion about the implications for research on the effects of such messages on potential voters.
This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, September 3-6, 2009, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Effects of Racial and Racist Appeals on Black Voters
We seek to understand how racist appeals by White candidates affect Black respondents’ perception of a Black and White candidate in a biracial election contest, as well as how appeals to Black authenticity affect Black respondents’ perceptions of two Black candidates vying for office against one another. We offer the results of two experiments conducted with national random samples of African Americans wherein participants were exposed to implicit racial or racist campaign advertisements by a candidate in a fictitious congressional election. Findings reveal that previous work on racist and racial messages are inadequate for explaining the effect of racialized communication in these contexts.
This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 2-5, 2009, Chicago, Illinois.
Racial Priming and Campaign Ads: The Effect of Context
Through an experimental design, we find that explicit racial content in a television program sufficiently activates racial schemas so as to mitigate the effectiveness of an implicit racial message in a political advertisement. Participants who watched a program with explicit racial content were more likely to recognize an implicit message as racial, thereby negating its potential effect.
This research presentation was made at the annual meeting of the Midwest Psychological Association, May 1-3, 2008, Chicago, Illinois. There is no formal paper associated with this presentation.
Winners and Losers: Factors Contributing to Minority Candidates’ Successes and Failures in American Elections, 1990-2006
Having compiled a heretofore unavailable list of federal election contests involving at least one minority candidate between 1990 and 2006 (both challengers and victors), we now have a unique data set that includes a number of variables such as amount of money raised/spent by the candidates, incumbency status, racial makeup of districts, exit poll data, amount of news coverage, and degree of racialized news coverage. Based on these data, we provide a descriptive composite of minority candidate characteristics and an assessment of what factors tend to relate to minority candidates’ success or failure between over the past sixteen years.
This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 2-6, 2008, Chicago, Illinois.
Racial Frames and Potential Effects of Minority Candidates in the 2008 Presidential Election
We explore the degree to which media coverage of the 2008 Democratic presidential nominating contests contribute to perceptions of minority candidates in the mass public. We examine the attribute framing of candidates in news media coverage from January 1, 2007 through January 15, 2008. Specifically, we quantitatively content analyze newspaper coverage to identify the presence of racial attributes (such as the mention of race, the race of candidates, race of voters, and other racial language) and character attributes (such leadership, trust, and intelligence). These data are compared with public opinion data regarding the candidates over the same time period. Results suggest that stories about minority candidates contain racial references more frequently than stories that involve only white candidates, and, contrary to expectations, emphasis on character traits often seen as detrimental to black candidates does not seem to harm support for Barack Obama.
This paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 2-6, 2008, Chicago, Illinois.
Black to Reality: Entertainment Television as a Priming Agent for Race-Based Evaluations of Candidates
Given the widespread tendency to avoid direct discourse about race in America (specifically among whites), we seek to better understand whether racial messages that heighten our awareness about race have an effect on voter decision-making. Rather than focusing on messages from news media or political advertising as priming agents, we explore the potential effect of popular culture. Specifically, we provide results of an experimental design where respondents were exposed to candidate advertisements in the context of one of two prime time reality television programs: Black.White. (which focuses on race relations in America) and Fear Factor (specifically, an episode that has no explicit racial content). Embedded candidate ads are drawn from a fictitious bi-racial election (a white candidate versus an African American candidate) and contain one of two types of racial messages from the white candidate: an implicitly racial message or no racial message at all. Due to limited data at the time of presentation, results are overwhelmingly inconclusive. We offer insight into the types of analysis that will be possible when more data is collected, as well as discussion of the gaps in the literature that necessitate such a study.
This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, August 30 – September 2, 2007, Chicago, Illinois.
Racialized Media Framing in Federal Elections, 1990-2006
Scholars have responded to the increase in racial minority involvement in federal elections by examining the types and extent of racial messages in campaign communication. Others have focused on third-party messages, particularly those found in the mass media. Building off and improving on the work of earlier cross-sectional studies, this paper features a comprehensive analysis of all federal election contests between 1992 and 2006 where at least one candidate in the general election was either a racial minority. We pay particular attention to the relationship between the level of racial framing and the focus (or lack thereof) on public policy issues, as well as the comparison between biracial and uniracial contests. Finding suggest that racial references are more common in stories about contests that feature a racial minority candidate, but such references do not necessarily constitute a “racial frame.” Further, references to race do not preclude discussion of substantive policy issues.
This paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 12 – 15, 2007, Chicago, Ilinois.
The Effects of Racial Messages in Televised Campaign Advertising: A Multi-Contextual Experimental Study
The extant literature in the areas of race, campaign communication and voting behavior has left unaddressed a number of issues that we explore in this paper. Previous studies have focused almost solely on the perceptions of black candidates by white voters; we are interested in understanding how racial cues in political advertising affect voter voters’ (both black and white) evaluations of candidates of either race. This paper presents the results of a 2 (race of candidates: black vs. white, black vs. black) X 3 (racial messages: implicit racial message vs. no racial message vs. explicit racial message) independent groups stimulus-posttest experimental design pilot study wherein participants are exposed to campaign advertisements that were carefully crafted and produced specifically for this project. We test the effects of racial messages on vote choice and candidate evaluation in both biracial (African American v. white) and all-black contests, controlling for a number of theoretically- grounded independent variables. Results highlight the way information processing of ads with racial content affects the evaluation of candidates in multiple election contexts, as well as the degree to which such messages are effective in priming preexisting racial attitudes. In short, what we know about how racial messages affect white voters differs from the reality of the way racial messages work in the context of black voters where both candidates in the election are also black.
Paper Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, April, 2006, Chicago, Illinois.
Shades of Black and Brown: Minority Congressional Candidates and Their Opponents in Multiple Contexts
This paper contributes to studies concerned with how the news media cover and frame elections involving minority candidates. We seek to ascertain the veracity of previously-drawn conclusions that show that the media disproportionately makes race a central reference point in bi-racial elections. This paper presents the conclusions of a content analysis study of national and local newspaper coverage of nine election contests from the 2004 cycle, including five U.S. Senate contests and four U.S. House contests. These contests reflect various forms of racial diversity of the candidates involved and the majority voting population. Our analysis focuses on several factors that we hypothesize significantly contribute to various forms of racial reference (some of which have not been a part of similar studies) including: the racial composition of the candidates (bi-racial including white, black and Hispanic/Latino candidates, as well as contests with two black candidates); the racial composition of voters; and the competitiveness of the race. We are also interested in whether the form of coverage differs significantly between bi-racial election contests involving African American candidates and those involving Latino candidates, as well as coverage of contests where both candidates are African American.
This paper was presented at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, September 1-4, 2005, Washington, DC.
Who’s Really Black? A Theory of African American Authentic Appeals
This paper advances a theory of African American Authentic Appeals, which attempts to explain various dimensions surrounding the need for, uses and potential effects of appeals made in election contests where both candidates are black, as well as the majority of the voting population. The theory outlines: 1) the necessary and sufficient conditions under which appeals to black authenticity are used (when can we predict they will be employed by candidates?) 2) the ways such appeals are constituted in common forms of campaign communication (how do we know them when we seem them?) 3) the psychological attitudes that are primed to give such appeals their weight (what about blacks’ psychology makes such an appeal potentially effective?) and 4) the factors that determine the effect of such appeals (under what conditions will they succeed or fail?).
This paper was presented at the annual meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 7-10, 2005, Chicago, Illinois.
Frames of Authenticity: News Coverage of Black Candidates and Their Campaigns
This paper examines local print coverage of congressional contests form 2002 in which at least one candidate is a racial minority. Grounded in the framing media effects literature, this study reveals the way the media address racial components in these campaigns. We offer a descriptive qualitative analysis of media coverage in these contests in order to flesh out our theory of African American authentic appeals.
This paper was presented at the annual meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 15-18, 2004, Chicago, Illinois.
Reading Race: An Experimental Study of The Effect of Political Advertisement’s Racial Tone on Candidate Perception and Vote Choice
This paper presents the results of an experiment designed to test the effect of various forms of racial messages in televised campaign advertisements. Building from Mendelberg’s (2001) theory of implicit racial messages, we exposed groups of respondents to implicit and explicit messages from a contest in which one candidate was white and the other was African American. Results confirm Mendelberg’s earlier findings, and move forward our extension of her theory to include both “racial” and “racist” political messages.
This paper was presented at the annual meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 3-6, 2003, Chicago, Illinois.
“How Do I Look?” An Analysis of Television Advertisements for Black Candidates and Their Opponents, 1952-2000 (Pilot Study, 1992-2000 Senate races included)
This paper reports the results of a content analysis study of 212 political advertisements run by candidates in U.S. Senate contests between 1990 -2000. The election contests from which the ads were drawn were general election contests where at least one of the candidates was African American. We set out to demonstrate the degree to which implicit and/or explicit racial messages are communicated either candidates’ advertisements and the common features of ads that convey such messages. Most significantly we found that black and white candidates rely on racial appeals with relative equal frequency. The paper provides descriptive analysis of the qualitative differences between racial/racist appeals used by black and white candidates.
This paper was presented at the annual meetings of the Midwest Political Science Association, April 25-28, 2002, Chicago, Illinois. It has been modified.