Nate Silver asks, “Are White Republicans More Racist Than White Democrats?”
As in most questions regarding complex and controversial social issues, the answer is not so simple. Some of the results here are pleasantly surprising, such as the percentage of both white Democrats and Republicans who said they would not vote for a black presidential candidate being essentially marginal, as well as the percentage of whites - both Democrat and Republican would who oppose a close relative marrying a black person. However, as you might expect, the number of white Republicans who believe black people are, essentially, too lazy to pull themselves out of poverty, as well as those who believe the government spends too much money to help African Americans has risen sharply since Barack Obama was first elected. Democrats, however, don’t come off too well in some of these polls as well. For instance, the number who believe that black people are too lazy to help themselves (essentially) sits at about 40%, as of 2012. Also, while the percentage among both parties of individuals who oppose living in a half black neighborhood has dropped considerably since the mid 1980’s, there has been a slight uptick in Democrats feeling that way since Obama’s first election in 2008.
My take, for what it’s worth, is that among certain Republican/wingnut elements, a major, head exploding freakout has occurred since Obama was first elected. But at the end of the day, it seems to me, that is a pretty small number of very loud people with very big megaphones offered them by certain media outlets, and it does not reflect the nation as a whole. I’m surprised to see that a wider partisan gap doesn’t exist, as a matter of fact.
Here’s Silver and McCann’s takeaway:
Fortunately, the expression of racism by whites toward blacks has decreased over time, and for Americans in both parties — at least, according to this survey. In 1990, the index of negative racial attitudes stood at 40 percent for white Democrats and 41 percent for white Republicans.
There hasn’t been much of an overall increase or decrease in the index since Obama took office. On average, between the 2004 and 2006 editions of the surveys — the last two before Obama was either a president or a candidate — the index of negative racial attitudes stood at 22 percent for white Democrats and 26 percent for white Republicans. Those values are within the margin of error for those in the 2010 and 2012 surveys.
If there’s a discouraging trend, it’s not so much that negative racial attitudes toward blacks have increased in these polls, but that they’ve failed to decrease under Obama, as they did so clearly for most of the past three decades.
Earlier in the piece, he does offer this important caveat:
Two warnings about this data. First, survey responses are an imperfect means of evaluating racism. Social desirability bias may discourage Americans from expressing their true feelings. Furthermore, the sample of Democrats and Republicans in the survey is not constant from year to year. If the partisan gap in racial attitudes toward blacks has widened slightly in the past few years, it may be because white racists have become more likely to identify themselves as Republican, and not because those Americans who already identified themselves as Republican have become any more racist.