Perceptions of Discrimination and Racial Policy Opinion After Obama
With the first-ever election of an African-American president, a debate began immediately about what this signaled in terms of American racial progress, and whether or not a “post-racial” society might be closer to realization. To test attitudes about the meaning of this event in real time, researchers at the University of Michigan surveyed the same random representative sample of the population directly before and after President Obama’s election.
Published in Public Opinion Quarterly, the 2011 study, “The Sword’s Other Edge: Perceptions of Discrimination and Racial Policy Opinion after Obama,” examines individual attitudes about race and perceptions of general levels of racial discrimination. The data were drawn from the 2008 Global Issues Election Survey (GIES): 617 respondents completed the survey between October 22 and November 3, 2008; post-election interviews with the same pool of respondents (82% participation rate) were completed by November 20.
Major findings include:
- President Obama’s election was linked to a decreased perception of racial discrimination: “Prior to the election, 61% said there was ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ discrimination against blacks, but only 50% endorsed that view after the election.”
- While most people perceived a decline in discrimination, some thought it actually increased: “One in four Americans (27%) revised their estimate of racial discrimination downward, compared to only 9% who revised it upward.”
- The perception of decreased discrimination seemed to change the most among “Republicans and conservatives, those low in political knowledge, and those who were experiencing relatively low levels of anger and enthusiasm before the election.”
- “Perceptual shifts were shown to be significantly larger among conservatives…. This provides the most support for the argument that changes in beliefs about discrimination may be driven by a desire to justify previous opposition to redistributive policies.”
- When controlling for other variables, the “perceived discrimination increased by 0.03 points on the 0 to 1 scale among liberals, while dropping 0.13 points among conservatives.”
- Despite decreased perceptions of discrimination, however, “those who saw less discrimination after the election also had slightly cooler feelings about blacks relative to whites.”
The researchers conclude that “across race, gender, age, and income, Americans seem to have taken the election of an African-American president as a sign that the country has moved significantly away from its racist past.”
Tags: race, presidency, elections, civil rights
Read the issue-related Washington Post opinion piece titled "The First Black President Has Made It Harder to Talk about Race in America."
- What key insights from articles and the study should reporters be aware of as they cover issues of race in America?
Read the full study titled “The Sword’s Other Edge: Perceptions of Discrimination and Racial Policy Opinion after Obama.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?