The Changing Norms of Racial Political Rhetoric and the End of Racial Priming

Monday, September 26, 2016

Nick Valentino

Professor of Political Science and Communication Studies; Research Professor, Center for Political Studies
University of Michigan

We explore the conjecture that norms of racial rhetoric in U.S. campaigns have shifted over the last several years. Prior work suggests that the way politicians talk about race affects the power of racial attitudes in political judgments. Racial priming theory suggested that explicit racial rhetoric – messages overtly hostile toward minorities – would be rejected. Only when race is cued subtly would the power of racial attitudes be maximized. Replication attempts have failed. Our theory identifies two historically related shifts that lead us to expect the effective distinction between explicit and implicit racial rhetoric has declined in recent years. Four nationally representative survey experiments strongly support our predictions: Regardless of whether political messages are racially explicit or implicit, the power of racial attitudes is large and stable. We find that many citizens now recognize racially hostile content in campaign communications, but are no longer angered or disturbed by it.

Mendelberg racial priming revived 2008
Huber, Gregory A., and John Lapinski. 2006. Assessing racial priming in policy contests

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