Study: Racial resentment influences appraisals of President Obama’s economic performance

New research published in the journal Electoral Studies indicates that racial beliefs can lead some Americans to minimize President Barack Obama’s economic accomplishments.

“What interested us most was the idea that people construct their own racial reality and they will align their beliefs to fit within this reality. People tend to minimize or ignore information that is inconsistent with their existing racial beliefs,” said study author Darren W. Davis, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

“Many people were not fair in their evaluations of President Obama. If they were highly racial resentful, they were not willing to evaluate President Obama objectively. Instead, individuals would align their beliefs about President Obama to be consistent with their resentment toward African Americans.”

The researchers examined data from 1,100 white respondents who participated in the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The respondents were asked how much credit or blame the president should receive if the economy improved or worsened.

The participants attributed more blame to Obama for a worsening national economy than credit for an improving economy. State governors, on the other hand, were given more credit and less blame than Obama.

Partisanship was also found to play a role. Independents and Republicans blamed Obama more than Democrats for a worsening economy and gave him less credit than Democrats for an improving economy.

But the researchers also found evidence that racial resentment could override partisan beliefs. Among Democrats and Independents, participants who agreed with statements like “African Americans bring up race only when they need to make an excuse for their failure” tended to give Obama less credit and more blame for the economy.

“The average person should take away from our study that people can be held captive by their own political and racial beliefs. We used to think that only one’s party identification was capable of biasing how people process information, but racial prejudice can be just as strong,” Davis told PsyPost.

“Instead viewing of politics objectively, people are motivated to maintain consistent beliefs,” Davis explained. “Our findings show that people were more willing to attribute greater responsibility for poor economic conditions to President Obama and attribute less responsibility for improving economic conditions only because doing so was consistent with their resentment toward African Americans. Their racial beliefs did not allow them to see the positive accomplishments of Obama.”

“As we see in politics today, there are many questions about the importance of facts and the willingness to put up with certain types intolerant or undemocratic behavior. Our research provides an answer. People will screen-out or minimize information that does not mesh with their racial and partisan belief systems.”

“Because of this drive toward racial cognitive consistency, people construct different racial realities. We consider this to be extremely dangerous because race becomes an intractable problem; there are no agreed upon facts and dialogue becomes impossible,” Davis added.

The study, “Appraisals of President Obama’s economic performance: Racial resentment and attributional responsibility“, was authored by David C. Wilson and Darren W. Davis.