LaFleur Stephens-Dougan Receives the 2021 Ralph J. Bunche Award

The Ralph J. Bunche Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best scholarly work in political science that explores the phenomenon of ethnic and cultural pluralism. 

A proud native of Brooklyn, New York, and a child of immigrants, LaFleur Stephens-Dougan currently teaches Politics as an Assistant Professor at Princeton University.   She earned her Ph.D. in Public Policy and Political Science from the University of Michigan and her B.A. in Political Science from the University of Rochester. Dr. Stephens-Dougan studies American politics, focusing on race and ethnic politics, public opinion, and experimental methods. She is the author of Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics (University of Chicago Press 2020). Dr. Stephens-Dougan is also a Faculty Affiliate at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics, a Faculty Co-founder of Princeton Research in Experimental Social Science (PRESS), and a Co-organizer of the Symposium on the Politics of Immigration (SPIRE). Dr. Stephens-Dougan’s research has been funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the National Science Foundation’s Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences. 

Citation from the Award Committee: 

 In Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics, author LaFleur Stephens-Dougan explores the intricate ways that racialized rhetoric is used by politicians to appeal to moderate and conservative white voters.  What sets Stephens-Dougan’s work apart from other important work on racialized rhetoric is the development of her theory of “racial distancing.”  Stephens-Dougan argues that politicians have incentives to appeal to moderate and conservative white voters, ensuring them that they will not disrupt the racial “status quo” (or racial hierarchy).  What makes this book innovative is that Stephens-Dougan demonstrates that both Republican and Democratic candidates as well as white and non-white candidates have an incentive to make such appeals but do so in drastically different ways.  In short, the nature of racialized appeals ranges across a spectrum that includes overt and explicit racialized references to more subtle or implicit “dog whistles.”  The strategic use of these racialized appeals is predicated on both race and party of the candidate. For (Black) Democratic politicians, “racial distancing” is an important and often successful political strategy that allows them to build broad coalitions. Stephens-Dougan uses a broad range of methodologies, including analysis of survey data and experimental data, to demonstrate the predictions made from racial distancing theory.  This book marks an important change in how we understand racial appeals in American politics. 


APSA thanks the committee members for their service: Dr. Saskia Bonjour (Chair), Universiteit van Amsterdam; Dr. Darren Davis, University of Notre Dame; and Dr. Bradford S. Jones, University of California, Davis.