Prejudice and Tolerance in US Presidential Politics: Evidence from Eight List Experiments in 2008 and 2012

Prejudice and Tolerance in US Presidential Politics: Evidence from Eight List Experiments in 2008 and 2012

by Eric R. Schmidt and Edward G. Carmines, Indiana University

Using list experiments on the 2008 and 2012 Cooperative Campaign Analysis Projects, we assessed whether Americans were more likely to vote against presidential candidates from underrepresented groups.

Our findings were notable for both the prejudice we found, and the prejudice we did not find:

  • In both 2008 and 2012, we found no evidence that respondents – regardless of party ID or ideology – were more likely to vote against an African American.
  • Similarly, respondents in 2008 were no more likely to vote against “a candidate who is a woman.”
  • In both cycles, Republicans were deeply uncomfortable supporting “gay or homosexual” candidates.
  • In 2008, most respondents showed some discomfort with Muslim candidates. But by 2012, anti-Muslim prejudice was concentrated among Republicans and conservatives.
  • In 2012, two-thirds of Democrats were more likely to vote against a Mormon candidate. This was unlikely to have been a “Romney effect” – since Republicans were not similarly opposed (in-the-abstract) to an African American.

As presidential contenders, then, gays and religious outsiders – rather than women and African Americans – appear to face the steepest prejudice. While Right and Left-leaning voters channel their prejudice toward different groups, most Americans are prepared to oppose candidates on the basis of their descriptive identities.

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