Racial Identity and Voting

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People have various personal identities that are important to them. For example, being a mom, exerciser, doctor, and Muslim might be most important to one woman, while the identities of partner, artist, professor, and atheist might be most important to another.

These examples show that people who share a particular group membership—in this case, women—can vary in the degree to which different identities are important to them.

Researchers have shown that racial identity can influence a number of outcomes, including voting records.

Brenda Major, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her colleagues recently examined this topic in further depth. Specifically, the research team examined how increased diversity might impact the threat Whites feel. The threat, in turn, might influence political candidates they support, especially when the candidate promotes the need for immigration control. Finally, the researchers examined whether Whites’ racial identity influenced these patterns.

The researchers conducted an experiment during the US presidential primaries in 2016. Participants read one of two randomly assigned news releases: one of which focused on shifting demographics in the US and the other which focused on geography, serving as the control condition.

For Whites with a strong racial identity, reading about the demographic shifts was associated with increased group status threat. The increased threat was then linked with support for Donald Trump and immigration reform, and an opposition to political correctness. For Whites with a low racial identity, none of the aforementioned findings materialized.

The results show that racial identity matters. It influences how people interpret data, the threats they feel, and, in this case, the political candidates they support.