Black conservatives attract white support when advocating against their in-group’s interests, study finds

Black people who espouse conservative stances on racial issues are especially popular among white Americans and white Republicans in particular, according to new research published in Social Science Research.

The research may help explain why black conservatives who argue that policies to address racial inequality are unnecessary receive more attention that black conservatives who focus on other conservative policies that are not directly related to race.

“Originally, we were interested in this after noticing the increasing prominence of black Republican candidates in federal campaigns (i.e. Ben Carson, Herman Cain),” said study author Gregory John Leslie, a doctoral student at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Some of them, like Herman Cain especially, seemed so underqualified I wondered if the party didn’t have some hand in propping them up to change the face of the party. We started the study because we wanted to test whether these kind of strategies by the Republican Party would be effective at diversifying their base.”

In the study, American participants read one of two editorials that were purportedly taken from a hypothetical conservative news site. One editorial advocated for privatizing Social Security, while the second argued that political correctness was stifling free speech about race.

The researchers also included a picture of the purported author of the editorial — who was sometimes depicted as a white man while other times was depicted as a black man.

Overall, a black conservative who argued that political correctness was bad because it made people afraid to offend minorities was significantly more well-liked compared to a white conservative who made the exact same argument. But this was not true when it came to the issue of Social Security.

“People really like black Republicans, especially the racially conservative ones. There is a special danger in black politicians who espouse racist rhetoric because it essentially ‘green lights’ the negative opinions of others,” Leslie told PsyPost.

The researchers observed several differences between participants based on their race and party identifications.

After reading the editorial about privatizing Social Security, white Republicans gave the white author higher favorability ratings than the black author, while Black Democrats gave the black author higher favorability ratings. White Democrats and white independents, on the other hand, viewed both the black and white conservative authors as roughly equal.

But when it came to the editorial about race, white Republicans preferred the black conservative more than the white conservative. In fact, white participants regardless of their political affiliation viewed the black author more favorably than the white author. However, black participants did not view the black author more positively than their white counterpart.

“Though we find that black conservatives are highly likeable, we don’t know if that translates to electable,” Leslie noted.

The study, “The Ben Carson Effect: Do voters prefer racialized or deracialized black conservatives?” was authored by Gregory John Leslie, Christopher T. Stout, and Naomi Tolbert.