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Friday, April 11, 2008

Richard Morin - The Hidden Truth About Liberals and Affirmative Action (1997)

The Hidden Truth About Liberals and Affirmative Action
Richard Morin - 1997
Washington Post

Surveys typically show that most political liberals and Democrats support affirmative action while most conservatives and Republicans reject it.

But everybody knows that people don't always say what they really think when they're talking about race. So are all of those liberals revealing their true feelings about affirmative action?

No, say Paul Sniderman of Stanford University and Edward Carmines of Indiana University. They've discovered that white liberals are just as angry about affirmative action as other whites -- they're just less willing to admit it, they argue in their new book, "Reaching Beyond Race," published by Harvard University.

Sniderman and Carmines say their results are very bad news for supporters of affirmative action as well as the Democratic party, which "is now threatened with a loss of support at its center because of resentment over the new race-conscious agenda."

These political scientists uncovered liberals' little secret through a series of novel experiments designed to measure attitudes toward affirmative action without tipping off poll participants as to what they were doing...

...Also very revealing: When the researchers analyzed the results, they found the political divisions over affirmative action found in other polls were conspicuously missing. "White liberals were as angry as conservatives, [57 percent versus 50 percent] and Democrats [65 percent] were as angry as Republicans [64 percent]," Sniderman said -- a result that they've replicated in subsequent surveys using longer lists and different wording of the affirmative action statement...


Affirmative Action Part II: When Words Anger
Carmines and Sniderman discovered just how potent the words "affirmative action" were in provoking white anger in an experiment they called the "Mere Mention" test.

In a national survey, the political scientists varied the sequence of a question asking about attitudes toward affirmative action with a group of questions measuring agreement with several racist stereotypes: Did the respondents believe that "most blacks" were "lazy"? Were they "irresponsible"? Were they "arrogant"?

The results surprised even the researchers. When the affirmative action question was asked first, 43 percent of all whites said most blacks were "irresponsible," compared with 26 percent when the affirmative action came after the questions about the negative characteristics.

Likewise, the percentage who identified blacks as "lazy" increased to 31 percent from 20 percent when the affirmative action question came first, and the proportion saying most blacks were "arrogant" rose from 29 percent to 36 percent.

"It is impressive that merely changing the order of the questions should have made any difference whatsoever." Also dismaying: The power of the mere mention of affirmative action "to sharpen hostility toward blacks," they reported.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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