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Why Do White Americans Oppose Race-Targeted Policies? Clarifying the Impact of Symbolic Racism

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Measures of symbolic racism (SR) have often been used to tap racial prejudice toward Blacks. However, given the wording of questions used for this purpose, some of the apparent effects on attitudes toward policies to help Blacks may instead be due to political conservatism, attitudes toward government, and/or attitudes toward redistributive government policies in general. Using data from national probability sample surveys and an experiment, we explored whether SR has effects even when controlling for these potential confounds and whether its effects are specific to policies involving Blacks. Holding constant conservatism and attitudes toward limited government, SR predicted Whites' opposition to policies designed to help Blacks and more weakly predicted attitudes toward social programs whose beneficiaries were racially ambiguous. An experimental manipulation of policy beneficiaries revealed that SR predicted policy attitudes when Blacks were the beneficiary but not when women were. These findings are consistent with the claim that SR's association with racial policy preferences is not due to these confounds.
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Keywords: Liberal-conservative ideology; Modern racism; Policy attitudes; Prejudice; Structural equation modeling; Symbolic racism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: University of Michigan 2: University of California, Los Angeles 3: Harvard University 4: Stanford University

Publication date: October 1, 2009

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