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Disarming White Identity: Electoral Effects on Group Threat

Sat, August 31, 10:00 to 11:30am, Marriott, Virginia B

Abstract

We investigate how racially fraught political events can alter the breadth and strength of white racial identity. We begin with a puzzle: our U.S. cross-sectional and panel surveys show years of stable white identity, then a drop greater than 10 points in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election. Why? We document the decline and test several potential explanations. On one hand, Trump’s election might signal racial victory, reducing the tension felt by many white Americans resenting a black president. On the other, Trump’s election following an explicitly racist campaign may have caused whites disgusted with Trump to distance themselves a toxic form of whiteness they aversively associated with him. We find a broad decline in white identification across several social, political, and demographic groups, but the drop is especially pronounced among those who said Trump disgusted them before the election. Media exposure and political attention amplify the change. Finally, individual-level declines in white identity corresponded with shifts in related racialized attitudes. We place these findings in context with other notable shifts in white racial attitudes, and we conclude with implications for racial identity in politics today.

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