Voters, Emotions, and Race in 2008: Obama as the First Black President


Social desirability effects make it difficult to learn voters’ racial attitudes. List experiments can tap sensitive issues without directly asking respondents to express overt opinions. The authors report on such an experiment about Barack Obama as the first black president, finding that 30 percent of white Americans were ``troubled’’ by the prospect of Obama as the first black president. The authors examine policy and emotional underpinnings of these responses, finding that expressed emotions of anxiety and enthusiasm condition latent racial attitudes and racial policy beliefs especially for those exhibiting a social desirability bias. The results suggest that Obama’s victory despite this level of concern about race was at least in part a result of intense enthusiasm his campaign generated. This enthusiasm for Obama may have allowed some white voters to overcome latent concerns about his race. The research suggests emotions are critical in understanding racial attitudes.

Political Research Quarterly