My research explores the role of racial attitudes in American public opinion using a mixture of survey, experimental and qualitative methods. Currently, my primary research goal is to introduce the phenomenon of racial sympathy to political science and demonstrate its relevance to American public opinion. More generally, my research takes a psychological approach to understanding the attitudes that undergird intergroup support and coalitions in politics. I provide more information about my current and ongoing research projects on this page.

Dissertation: Racial Sympathy in american politics

Chapter 4: The Influence of Racial Sympathy in American Politics

Abstract: This project examines the understudied, but prevalent, phenomenon of white racial sympathy for blacks in American politics. Reversing course from a long tradition of studying racial antipathy, I introduce and validate a new measure of racial sympathy and demonstrate its consequences for public opinion using data from national and convenience surveys. Furthermore, I undertake a variety of analyses to distinguish racial sympathy from existing measures of attitudes, including contemporary manifestations of racial animus, such as racial resentment. I find that racial sympathy is consistently and significantly associated with support for public policies perceived to benefit African Americans, even while accounting for measures of principles and racial resentment. Racial sympathy is also distinct from a generalized social sympathy, as it does not predict support for policies that benefit gays and lesbians or women. In a final set of analyses, I use a series of experiments to consider the activation of racial sympathy. Specifically, I examine the ways in which highlighting black suffering gives rise to sympathetic political behavior. Though I situate the study in contemporary American politics, I also discuss the relevance of racial sympathy to other periods in American political history such as the Abolitionist movement and the 1960s. This project is a companion to the rich literature in political science on racial prejudice. It contributes to our understanding of the multifaceted role that race plays in American politics and public opinion.

Other Research

Guilt by Association: White Collective Guilt in American Politics with Spencer Piston and Joshua M. Shipper (under review)

Abstract: Decades of research have illuminated the pernicious effects of white racial prejudice on American politics. However, by focusing on prejudice, scholars have neglected other racial attitudes that might be relevant to whites’ political preferences. Our project addresses this omission by introducing white collective guilt, defined as remorse that a white person experiences due to her group’s actions toward black people. We expect collective guilt to motivate white support for both policies perceived to benefit African Americans and black politicians. We examine these theoretical expectations using original data from two national surveys and an original survey experiment. The results reveal that collective guilt has considerable explanatory power, even after taking standard measures of racial attitudes into account. We conclude that collective guilt is an independent racial attitude with significant consequences for public opinion.

Accommodation or Backlash? The Effect of Obama’s Historic Election on Racial Thinking in America with Donald R. Kinder

Abstract: On November of 2008, Americans chose Barack Obama to be the 44th president of the United States. In a nation dedicated to liberty and equality in principle but stained by slavery and discrimination in practice, a black man became president. The purpose of our paper is to offer an assessment of the consequences of this historic event for Americans’ views on race. Have we moved closer to, or further from, a politics in which race plays no role?

Did White Racial Sympathy Help Barack Obama? with Spencer Piston

Abstract: Although many scholars have examined the influence of prejudice on voter evaluations of Barack Obama, it is unclear whether and how other racial attitudes factored into the election of the country’s first black president. In this project, we examine whites that carry sympathy for blacks and how this sympathy mapped onto support for Obama in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. We find that sympathy for blacks led certain whites to endorse Obama in both elections, but to a larger extent during his first campaign. Drawing on data from an original survey, we also find that guilt shaped evaluations of Obama in some circumstances. We discuss the ways in which our results align and depart from other work that considers the influence of diverse leadership on public opinion.

Why are Asian Americans Democrats? With Chinbo Chong

Abstract: In the wake of the 2012 election, pundits and scholars alike have attempted to understand why Barack Obama won such a significant share of the Asian American vote (73 percent). More generally, it is still unclear how immigrants form partisan attachments and the ways in which this process replicates and departs from our understanding of party identification among whites. While scholars have considered the influence of racial discrimination and geography on Asian Americans’ partisan identification, they have yet to fully explore how Asians’ attitudes of other social groups, particularly African Americans, factor into their political calculus. In this paper, we use the National Asian American Survey (2008), to examine the ways in which Asian Americans’ views of Blacks influence their likelihood of identifying as Democrats. We discuss this phenomena in the context of immigrant party identification more generally, and also draw attention to the ways in which the heterogeneity of Asian Americans as a group complicates our understanding of these processes.


The painting featured on this page is Normal Rockwell’s New Kids in the Neighborhood,  1967. Oil on canvas. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.