Inserting race into the election? It’s all in your head

A psychological study finds there is substance to what “black art” campaign operatives have attempted to do in using race as a wedge issue with voters.

The report published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology turns the conventional wisdom of like-minded racial and ethnic group identity — “who you are” — on its head to explore how important “who you are not” is in voting preferences.

Ars Technica explores it further:

During the Democratic primaries, there were indications that, among the social variables, race was an important factor. Asian and Latino voters preferred Hillary Clinton, but Black voters heavily supported Barack Obama.

Between October 16 and December 17, 2007, the psychologists asked Asian and Latino undergraduate student volunteers to think and write about how being in their minority group shaped their lives in the United States (the affirmational condition). They then asked another set of Asian and Latino volunteers to concentrate and write about how being “not Caucasian” affected their lives (the negational condition). Once the writing was done, they asked the participants to pick either Obama or Clinton as if they were voting for the Democratic primary right at that moment.

Participants of both minority groups favored Obama under negational conditions, while affirmational conditioned ones preferred Clinton. Thus, the minority racial groups united together when they were clearly differentiated from the majority group. In contrast, when the volunteers thought only of their own group, there was less sense of cohesiveness among the minority groups, leading to an alliance with the majority. More importantly, the experiment shows that the relationship between identity and voting is susceptible to manipulation.

The bottom line?

University of Toronto Prof. Chen-Bo Zhong, the study’s lead researcher, concludes we should “think carefully about the issues in this election, rather than be influenced by our perceptions of social identity because those can be easily manipulated by the media, campaign ads, and speeches.”

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Wendy Norris

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