Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


I’d Like the Same Plan Better If It Was Bill Clinton’s

• November 13, 2009 • 1:15 PM

Trying to take the pulse of how much race matters, a study looking at prejudice and the president finds a persistent residue of racism in how health care reform is viewed.

Even among the most extreme opponents of President Obama’s push for health care reform — those who equate his proposals to Nazi death camps or Soviet gulags — there’s little overtly expressed racism. Aside from the occasional slip by Republican officials in South Carolina, the public debate over expanding coverage to the uninsured has largely ignored Obama’s status as the first African-American president.

But implicit racism — prejudice unacknowledged in public and, in many cases, hidden from conscious awareness — is a factor in opposition to Obama’s health policies. That’s the conclusion of a provocative new paper that’s one of two research reports on prejudice and the president just published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Participants in a yearlong study who scored low on implicit prejudice found the proposed health care plan equally appealing whether it was attributed to Bill Clinton or President Obama. However, those who scored high in implicit prejudice supported the plan when it was linked to Clinton, but opposed it when linked to Obama.

A team of scholars led by psychologist Eric Knowles of the University of California, Irvine recruited 285 Americans (236 white, 43 Asians, six Latinos) from a Stanford University database. In late October 2008, the participants took tests designed to measure both explicit and implicit racial prejudice.

To gauge levels of implicit racism, they performed the Go/No-go Association Task, a variation on the Implicit Association Test. Knowles describes it this way:

“The Go/No-go Association Task has individuals categorize words — specifically, stereotypically African-American names and words that carry pleasant or unpleasant meaning — into the categories ‘black’ and ‘bad’ or ‘black’ and ‘good.’ Some participants have great difficulty categorizing black names and pleasant words at the same time, while finding it easy to simultaneously categorize black names and unpleasant words. These participants are deemed to mentally associate the black category and bad things.”

In a second assessment the following week, participants were asked about their attitudes toward then-candidate Barack Obama. Three weeks later, they were asked who they voted for in the presidential election. Finally, in early October 2009, 230 of the original participants were asked about the current health care debate.

Half of them were asked about their support or opposition to the Democratic health care proposals, and asked to rate six potential concerns about the policy. The results: “Subjects who showed no bias against blacks (in the original test) were about evenly split on Obama’s health care plan, with 48 percent opposed to the plan and 52 percent supporting it,” Knowles reports. “However, subjects with an anti-black bias were opposed to the Obama plan by almost two-to-one, with 66 percent opposed and 34 percent supporting it.”

The remaining 130 participants “were randomly assigned to read a description of health care reform framed either as being President Obama’s plan or Bill Clinton’s 1993 plan. The description was identical across conditions and described elements common to both plans. After reading the description, participants rated their attitude toward the plan.”

The results were quite striking.

“When the health care reform plan was framed as former President Clinton’s idea, a majority of both high- and low-prejudice subjects (65 percent and 66 percent) supported the plan,” Knowles said. “However, when the plan was framed as Obama’s idea, support among biased subjects fell to 41 percent, while support among low-bias subjects remaining essentially unchanged (70 percent).”

The researchers conclude that “while our findings do not corroborate the view that opposition to the president is motivated primarily by racial prejudice, they clearly rebut those who argue that opposition to Obama and his policies have nothing to do with race.”

The second study confines its analysis to the 2008 election, but comes to the same conclusion. A research team led by psychologist B. Keith Payne of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill surveyed 1,056 Americans before and after the election. Their levels of implicit and explicit racism were rated and compared to their voting behavior.

In this study, implicit prejudice was measured using the Affect Misattribution Procedure, in which photos of either black or white faces were flashed onto a computer screen, followed by a Chinese ideograph. “Respondents were instructed to judge whether each ideograph was pleasant or unpleasant while avoiding influence from the photos,” the researchers write. “Unintentional influence of the primes on judgments can be used to measure attitudes toward the white and black faces.”

“We found that implicit and explicit prejudice predicted voting behavior in subtly different ways,” the researchers report. Not surprisingly, those higher in explicit prejudice were less likely to vote for Obama and more likely to vote for Republican candidate John McCain.


For more this topic, see our story on unintended racism in schools on Miller-McCune.com.


But those with higher levels of implicit prejudice were less likely to vote for Obama, but they were also less likely to vote for McCain. “Instead, they were more likely to either abstain, or to vote for a third-party candidate,” the scholars report.
Knowles and Payne both concede that some scholars question the validity of these implicit racism tests. But both strongly defend their findings, with Knowles noting that levels of implicit prejudice successfully predicted opposition to Obama’s health care plan “after a lag of almost a year.”

“Because most people wish to appear fair-minded — both to others and themselves — they also embrace more principled, ‘color-blind’ rationales for their race-based views,” Knowles and his colleagues write.

Payne and his colleagues agree, arguing that their findings suggest “implicitly measured prejudice is indeed associated with unambiguous and meaningful discriminatory behaviors.” But they add that their study also suggests the impact of explicit racism on voting behavior may be underestimated.

“Our findings suggest that Mr. Obama was not elected because of an absence of prejudice,” they conclude, “but despite its continuing presence.”

 

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

December 18 • 4:00 PM

How I Navigated Life as a Newly Sober Mom

Saying “no” to my kids was harder than saying “no” to alcohol. But for their sake and mine, I had to learn to put myself first sometimes.


December 18 • 2:00 PM

Women in Apocalyptic Fiction Shaving Their Armpits

Because our interest in realism apparently only goes so far.


December 18 • 12:00 PM

The Paradox of Choice, 10 Years Later

Paul Hiebert talks to psychologist Barry Schwartz about how modern trends—social media, FOMO, customer review sites—fit in with arguments he made a decade ago in his highly influential book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less.


December 18 • 10:00 AM

What It’s Like to Spend a Few Hours in the Church of Scientology

Wrestling with thetans, attempting to unlock a memory bank, and a personality test seemingly aimed at people with depression. This is Scientology’s “dissemination drill” for potential new members.


December 18 • 8:00 AM

Gendering #BlackLivesMatter: A Feminist Perspective

Black men are stereotyped as violent, while black women are rendered invisible. Here’s why the gendering of black lives matters.


December 18 • 7:06 AM

Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.


December 18 • 6:00 AM

The Very Weak and Complicated Links Between Mental Illness and Gun Violence

Vanderbilt University’s Jonathan Metzl and Kenneth MacLeish address our anxieties and correct our assumptions.


December 18 • 4:00 AM

Should Movies Be Rated RD for Reckless Driving?

A new study finds a link between watching films featuring reckless driving and engaging in similar behavior years later.


December 17 • 4:00 PM

How to Run a Drug Dealing Network in Prison

People tend not to hear about the prison drug dealing operations that succeed. Substance.com asks a veteran of the game to explain his system.


December 17 • 2:00 PM

Gender Segregation of Toys Is on the Rise

Charting the use of “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in American English.


December 17 • 12:41 PM

Why the College Football Playoff Is Terrible But Better Than Before

The sample size is still embarrassingly small, but at least there’s less room for the availability cascade.


December 17 • 11:06 AM

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.


December 17 • 10:37 AM

A Public Lynching in Sproul Plaza

When photographs of lynching victims showed up on a hallowed site of democracy in action, a provocation was issued—but to whom, by whom, and why?


December 17 • 8:00 AM

What Was the Job?

This was the year the job broke, the year we accepted a re-interpretation of its fundamental bargain and bought in to the push to get us to all work for ourselves rather than each other.


December 17 • 6:00 AM

White Kids Will Be Kids

Even the “good” kids—bound for college, upwardly mobile—sometimes break the law. The difference? They don’t have much to fear. A professor of race and social movements reflects on her teenage years and faces some uncomfortable realities.



December 16 • 4:00 PM

How Fear of Occupy Wall Street Undermined the Red Cross’ Sandy Relief Effort

Red Cross responders say there was a ban on working with the widely praised Occupy Sandy relief group because it was seen as politically unpalatable.


December 16 • 3:30 PM

Murder! Mayhem! And That’s Just the Cartoons!

New research suggests deaths are common features of animated features aimed at children.


December 16 • 1:43 PM

In Tragedy, Empathy Still Dependent on Proximity

In spite of an increasingly connected world, in the face of adversity, a personal touch is most effective.


December 16 • 12:00 PM

The ‘New York Times’ Is Hooked on Drug du Jour Journalism

For the paper of record, addiction is always about this drug or that drug rather than the real causes.


December 16 • 10:00 AM

What Is the Point of Academic Books?

Ultimately, they’re meant to disseminate knowledge. But their narrow appeal makes them expensive to produce and harder to sell.


December 16 • 8:00 AM

Unjust and Unwell: The Racial Issues That Could Be Affecting Your Health Care

Physicians and medical students have the same problems with implicit bias as the rest of us.


December 16 • 6:00 AM

If You Get Confused Just Listen to the Music Play

Healing the brain with the Grateful Dead.


December 16 • 4:00 AM

Another Casualty of the Great Recession: Trust

Research from Britain finds people who were laid off from their jobs expressed lower levels of generalized trust.


December 15 • 4:00 PM

When Charter Schools Are Non-Profit in Name Only

Some charters pass along nearly all their money to for-profit companies hired to manage the schools. It’s an arrangement that’s raising eyebrows.


Follow us


Apparently You Can Bring Your Religion to Work

New research says offices that encourage talk of religion actually make for happier workplaces.

Canadian Kids Have a Serious Smoking Problem

Bootleg cigarette sales could be leading Canadian teens to more serious drugs, a recent study finds.

The Hidden Psychology of the Home Ref

That old myth of home field bias isn’t a myth at all; it’s a statistical fact.

A Word of Caution to the Holiday Deal-Makers

Repeat customers—with higher return rates and real bargain-hunting prowess—can have negative effects on a company’s net earnings.

Crowdfunding Works for Science

Scientists just need to put forth some effort.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.