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How Whites Respond to Calling Racial Appeals Racist

Sat, September 2, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Hotel Nikko, Peninsula Room


Scholars have long studied the extent to which racial appeals influence public opinion, in part exploring how drawing attention to “race baiting” strategies can extinguish their effects on individuals’ political preferences. I argue, however, that today, the idea of “playing the race card” is so familiar to white Americans that instead of rejecting racial messages, many whites instead reject the claim that messages are racialized. In fact, attempts from elites to describe political messages as racist produce a backlash effect, such that whites become more politically conservative in their race-related political preferences, and they evaluate political candidates making these assertions more negatively. Not all whites are susceptible to these frames, however. It is the whites who feel most aggrieved, as if they themselves experience racial discrimination. Such sentiments are closely linked to whites with high levels of racial in-group. I test these hypotheses using a nationally representative sample of non-Hispanic white citizens, and show that accusations of racism produce this backlash effect. Moreover, these effects are conditioned by whites’ attachment to their own in-group.