Racial policy preferences have not changed significantly in the United States from 1988 to 2008 despite the success of President Barack Obama, visiting scholars said Monday.
The controversial topic of race and its role in the historic 2008 election was the focus of discussion by Vincent Hutchings of the University of Michigan and Paul Sniderman of Stanford University in McKenna Hall Auditorium Monday.
The lecture was the first in a series examining today’s political landscape, as the University of Notre Dame’s Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy kicked off its inaugural conference, entitled, “The Change Election? The 2008 Presidential Election and the Future of American Politics.”
“Racial policy preferences remain relatively steady over time, and the racial divide is relatively large. However, it may well be that whites are more likely to adopt a conservative opinion on matters of racial policy, not due to any racial bias or prejudice, but rather that this may be deriving from some set of non-racial political values,” Hutchings said. “However, racial prejudice itself is also associated with racial policy preference.”
Sniderman presented a self-critique of his own past studies, in which he failed to give adequate weight and significance to positive attitudes held by white individuals in regard to African Americans, since he said he believed that such talk was “cheap,” easy to fake and ultimately un-measurable.
According to Sniderman, though, prejudice is a continuum, with favorable opinions being just as valid as negative ones.
“The two evaluative scorecards are not independent of each other,” Sniderman said. “As one becomes more consistently positive, they also become less negative.”
The lecture concluded with a brief question and answer session, in which the scholars as well as Center faculty and students posed questions regarding Obama’s uniqueness as an African-American candidate, as well as what additional factors beyond race could have contributed to his success.
The conference continues through today and features discussion on a range of political issues, including gender, campaign communication and Congress.