Idiocracy, Part Two: Putting ‘Em Under the Microscope

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Rachel Wetts, We Studied Who’s Most Susceptible To Racial Dog Whistles. It’s Not Who You’d Expect: New research on the impact of racial dog whistling on Americans offers more insight on Obama-Trump swing voters.

The author is an assistant professor at Brown University. She writes,

Since Donald Trump’s surprise victory in 2016, political observers have sought to understand the elusive Obama-Trump swing voter — Americans who voted for the Democratic candidate in 2012 but who switched party loyalties in 2016 to vote for a candidate who regularly invoked negative stereotypes of racial minorities.

My latest research may shed more light onto this mysterious group of voters. …

The results of our experiments suggest that racially resentful, white liberals are most swayed by attempts to tap into latent racial animosities. By analyzing national survey data, we also found that this same group was particularly likely to switch from voting for Barack Obama in 2012 to Donald Trump in 2016. While our research can’t prove that these individuals voted for Trump because his campaign messages invoked negative stereotypes of racial minorities, the pattern is suggestive. …

While we found that white liberals high in racial resentment are most responsive to this rhetoric, most liberals report relatively low levels of racial resentment. That means that a) most liberals in our studies were not swayed by racial dog whistles, and b) on average, moderates and conservatives in our studies reported higher levels of racial resentment (and other types of racial prejudice) than did liberals.

And Here is Where the Rubber Meeets the Road

Professor Wetts continues,

Instead, one takeaway is that this group of potential swing voters is not comprised of moderates in the traditional sense. Rather, what stands out about these racially resentful, white liberals are their conflicting political attitudes. Their racial attitudes are not aligned with their political ideologies in the same way as most white Americans. As noted above, most liberals in today’s political environment express relatively low levels of racial resentment, and most conservatives express relatively high levels of racial resentment. These racially resentful liberals, on the other hand, have liberal ideologies and typically Democratic partisan identities but are more similar to conservatives in their racial attitudes.

These conflicting attitudes appear to make this group vulnerable to attempts to influence their political opinions with subtle and overt racial appeals, a factor that may have led many of them to vote for Donald Trump.

However, their liberal ideologies and Democratic partisan identities may also mean they can be influenced by principled appeals for traditional liberal priorities, such as an expanded social safety net and government intervention to build a better society. Though this is beyond the scope of our research, this suggests that if Democrats tap into these liberal values and sense of partisan loyalty, these voters may well swing back.


In the last little while, since my first Idiocracy post, readers from Kenya and Mauritius have joined the party. I really must check out Mauritius.