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Obama Effect, The

Obama Effect, The: How the 2008 Campaign Changed White Racial Attitudes

Seth K. Goldman
Diana C. Mutz
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 202
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  • Book Info
    Obama Effect, The
    Book Description:

    Barack Obama's historic 2008 campaign exposed many white Americans more than ever before to a black individual who defied negative stereotypes. While Obama's politics divided voters, Americans uniformly perceived Obama as highly successful, intelligent, and charismatic. What effect, if any, did the innumerable images of Obama and his family have on racial attitudes among whites? InThe Obama Effect, Seth K. Goldman and Diana C. Mutz uncover persuasive evidence that white racial prejudice toward blacks significantly declined during the Obama campaign. Their innovative research rigorously examines how racial attitudes form, and whether they can be changed for the better.

    The Obama Effectdraws from a survey of 20,000 people, whom the authors interviewed up to five times over the course of a year. This panel survey sets the volume apart from most research on racial attitudes. From the summer of 2008 through Obama's inauguration in 2009, there was a gradual but clear trend toward lower levels of white prejudice against blacks. Goldman and Mutz argue that these changes occurred largely without people's conscious awareness. Instead, as Obama became increasingly prominent in the media, he emerged as an "exemplar" that countered negative stereotypes in the minds of white Americans. Unfortunately, this change in attitudes did not last. By 2010, racial prejudice among whites had largely returned to pre-2008 levels. Mutz and Goldman argue that news coverage of Obama declined substantially after his election, allowing other, more negative images of African Americans to re-emerge in the media.The Obama Effectarrives at two key conclusions: Racial attitudes can change even within relatively short periods of time, and how African Americans are portrayed in the mass media affects how they change.

    While Obama's election did not usher in a "post-racial America,"The Obama Effectprovides hopeful evidence that racial attitudes can-and, for a time, did-improve during Obama's campaign. Engaging and thorough, this volume offers a new understanding of the relationship between the mass media and racial attitudes in America.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-824-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER 1 The Impact of the Obama Campaign on White Racial Attitudes
    (pp. 1-14)

    Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery in 1838 to become a leading abolitionist, said that he had less than one chance in 60 million of becoming president.¹ One hundred and seventy years later, on November 4, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama became the first African American to win a presidential election. As one resident of New Orleans said, “I never dreamed in my lifetime that I would see a black man as President of the United States. I was a kid growing up under Jim Crow. We couldn’t drink out of the same water faucet—but now it seems that America...


    • CHAPTER 2 Is the Decline in White Racial Prejudice Meaningful?
      (pp. 17-38)

      The intriguing finding presented in chapter 1 showed that, in the short span of the 2008 presidential campaign, white Americans became, on average, more positive in their views of African Americans. Here, before considering why this change occurred, we address several specific concerns that could undermine the significance of this change.

      First, and most importantly: is what we measured really prejudice—that is, whites systematically favoring whites over blacks? A great deal has been written about the difficulties of tapping racial attitudes in America, so how do our measures stack up in this regard? Second, can we be certain that...

    • CHAPTER 3 Visions of Unity: White Perceptions of Race Relations
      (pp. 39-58)

      Few people who witnessed the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama on January 20, 2009, could mistake the momentous nature of the day’s events, nor the jubilant mood of the participants, black and white alike. Likewise, theWashington Post(November 8, 2008) described election night as “Rapture in the Streets as Multitudes Cheer Obama and Celebrate America.”¹ The sight of this event caused both white and black children to reevaluate who could actually grow up to be president someday; indeed, these inspirational effects had become evident long before the election, when Obama became the first black nominee of a major political...


    • CHAPTER 4 The Role of Mass Media in Changing White Racial Attitudes
      (pp. 61-79)

      What explains the decline in white racial prejudice that we have observed? Prior public opinion research unfortunately provides little guidance for understanding the processes involved in prejudice reduction. Despite the large amount of research on this general topic, as well as the billions of dollars spent on prejudice reduction efforts in school and work settings, we know shockingly little about effective approaches to this problem. As Elizabeth Paluck and Donald Green note in their review, scholars typically treat “prejudice as a fixed personal attribute,” so they rarely consider the causes ofchangein attitudes toward out-groups.¹

      Our theory of mediated...

    • CHAPTER 5 Testing Rival Theories of Media Influence
      (pp. 80-96)

      Mass public exposure to the 2008 presidential campaign played an important role in helping to reduce whites’ racial prejudice during the fall of 2008. We have hypothesized that this decline in prejudice resulted from media exposure to Barack Obama as a positive black exemplar. According to exemplification theory, attitudes about social groups are based on the individual group members, or exemplars, who most readily come to mind. So when asked for their attitudes about blacks, whites’ responses are based on the individual African Americans who are most readily accessible in their minds. This theory predicts that the sheer amount of...


    • CHAPTER 6 Whatever Happened to the Obama Exemplar?
      (pp. 99-119)

      The most important question posed by the systematic change in white racial attitudes observed in our earlier chapters is whether this change was sustained over time. Did white racial attitude remain more positive, or did they lapse along with the optimism of this unique moment in history? Given the centrality of Obama coverage to the exemplification effects that lessened prejudice toward African Americans, the persistence of this coverage and its effects is a central concern in evaluating the longer-term prospects for reducing prejudice. As described in chapter 4, exemplification changes people’s attitudes by altering the exemplars that most easily come...

    • CHAPTER 7 Implications for the Study of Racial Attitudes
      (pp. 120-133)

      Few events have surprised pundits and political scientists as much as the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president of the United States. Once Obama was reelected in 2012, it became even more difficult to recall the extreme skepticism that had accompanied his candidacy. At the commencement of the primary season in late 2007, the idea that a black man would be elected president seemed highly implausible to most Americans, precisely because of the long-standing history of racism in this country. Strangely enough, by the end of that election season, many of those same observers expressed great surprise that racial...

  10. APPENDIX A Benefits of Fixed-Effects Regression in Panel Analyses
    (pp. 134-136)
  11. APPENDIX B Wording of the Survey Items
    (pp. 137-140)
  12. APPENDIX C Demographics of the Survey Samples of Non-Hispanic Whites
    (pp. 141-142)
  13. APPENDIX D Details of the Content Analysis
    (pp. 143-147)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 148-162)
    (pp. 163-177)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 178-184)