Winning Proposal to the Garth Taylor Fellowship Fund: 2016 Competition

Project Title: Racial Sympathy in American Politics

Faculty Sponsor: Don Kinder, Vince Hutchings

Graduate Student: Jennifer Chudy

Project Description

I will run a series of survey experiments exploring the conditions that activate racial sympathy in politics. First, I plan on conducting pilot studies of the experiment on convenience samples (both in-person and over the Internet) to refine the survey instrument. Based on the results of these pilot studies, I will adjust the instrument in preparation for administration on a nationwide sample. Working closely with Survey Sampling International, a reputable survey firm with whom I have previously contracted, I will identify the relevant sample, consult on the programing of the survey, and ultimately field the multiwave study over a period of one month. Once the firm returns the data to me, I will conduct a series of statistical analyses to explore the activation of racial sympathy. Specifically, I will examine whether the activation of racial sympathy is contingent on witnessing black suffering, or otherwise put: does sympathy lie politically dormant if black suffering is trivialized or not referenced? In this section of the proposal, I will provide an overview of my theoretical expectations for the project as well as a summary of the experimental design and projected budget.

My theory argues that racial sympathy is rooted in white sorrow over black suffering; I therefore hypothesize that two components must be present to activate it: African Americans and suffering. Accordingly, I have designed two experiments: the race experiment and the intensity experiment to probe the conditions that give rise to sympathetic political behavior. In the fall of 2015, I administered the race experiment, in which I presented subjects with a hypothetical newspaper article about an individual experiencing a hard time and manipulated the race of this individual to be either white or black. I found that viewing the black individual indeed increased the salience of racial sympathy on support for public policies to alleviate this hardship. This result was replicated across two diverse policy areas – policing and poverty – and demonstrated that racial sympathy is not reducible to a general social sympathy for anyone down on his or her luck – instead, it is firmly rooted in race.