Anger: Racial Resentment Drives Opposition to Health Care Reform

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Principal investigator:

Antoine J. Banks

University of Maryland



Sample size: 986

Field period: 4/6/2010-7/16/2010


Pundits and politicians debated whether race was implicated in the rancorous public forums and demonstrations over health care reform. Research suggests that for many whites, racial predispositions play a greater role in their opinions on health care than in previous years. Building on this work, I examine the extent to which anger uniquely activates whites' racial attitudes and increases its effect on preferences for health care reform. My theory suggests this effect occurs because anger and thoughts about race are tightly linked together. Using a nationally representative experiment over two waves, I induced several emotions to elicit anger, fear, enthusiasm, or relaxation. The results show that anger uniquely pushes racial conservatives to oppose health care reform while it triggers support among racial liberals. On the other hand, neither anger nor any of the other emotions enhance the effect of race-neutral principles on health care reform.


H1: The experience of anger (independent of thoughts about politics or race) should boosts opposition to health care reform among those high in racial resentment while anger increases support for health care reform among those low in racial resentment.
H2: Race-Neutral Attitudes should not be affected by anger.
H3: Racial Attitudes and Race-Neutral Attitudes should not be affected by fear.

Experimental Manipulations

The experimental design has four conditions: an anger condition, a fear condition, an enthusiasm condition, and a relaxed condition. The manipulation consists of two emotion induction techniques common in psychological studies. This procedure asks subjects to recall and focus on events, people, or occurrences that lead them to experience a given emotion while viewing an image of a person with a facial expression corresponding to that emotion.


The outcome variable is opposition to Health Care Reform. The specific item is "As of right now, do you favor or oppose Barack Obama and the Democrats' Health Care reform bill".

Summary of Results

The experiment shows that anger primes racial thoughts such that support for health care reform becomes more divided by racial attitudes. Furthermore, my findings show that anger does not boost the impact of race-neutral principles like liberal-conservative ideology or preferences for small and efficient government on policy opinion.