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The Effects of Racist and Racial Appeals on White Voters

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Principal Investigator(s):

Charlton McIlwain
New York University
Home page:

Stephen Maynard Caliendo
North Central College

Sample size:236
Field period: 1/25/2010-4/6/2010



  1. White participants exposed to ads containing implicit racial messages from a White candidate running against a Black opponent will evaluate the White candidate more favorably than the Black candidate and will be more likely to vote for the White candidate, as compared to participants who are not exposed to the racial message.
  2. White participants exposed to ads between two Black candidates will evaluate the candidate who makes an implicit appeal to authenticity more negatively than participants exposed to no authenticity message.

Experimental Manipulation:

Respondents were randomly assigned a racist message or non-racial message

Key Dependent Variables:

Vote Choice
Feeling Thermometer
Intention to Vote

Summary of Findings:

Contrary to our expectations, when exposed to an advertisement containing a racist appeal by a white candidate, running against a Black opponent, white participants did not differ significantly from those in the control group in terms of their likelihood to vote or their feelings about the candidate. Instead, the strongest predictor of participants' vote choice or candidate feeling was whether they believed a candidate appealed to race. Those who believed the white candidate appealed to race were less inclined to vote for him and felt less strongly than those who did not. As well, those who perceived that the black candidate appealed to race (despite the presence of only a non-racist message in the ad by the black candidate).

Similar results were seen among white participants who viewed ads from two black candidates. Again, the belief among participants that one or the other candidate appealed to race was the strongest predictor of participants' candidate evaluations. Those viewing the ad by the candidate appealing to racial authenticity viewed him more negatively and expressed a significantly less likelihood to vote for him than the black candidate who did not appeal to race. Yet again, some participants perceived that the black candidate who did not appeal to race, in fact did.


McIlwain, Charlton D. & Caliendo, Stephen M. (2011). Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.


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