Though many commentators have tried to imply that the election of Barack Obama meant that American society had moved beyond racial bias, the new study thoroughly refutes that outlook. In the study, even voters who weren’t aware that they held any racial bias were more likely to pick a Repulican candidate over Obama. While they might cite the economy or other reasons for their preference, the psychologists said a contributing cause could be their conscious or unconscious racial attitudes.
A majority of white voters in the study showed a pattern of “automatic white preference” on a widely used measure to test unconscious racial bias.
“The obvious questions raised by these observations: After nearly four years having an African American President in the White House, why do race attitudes (including unconscious race attitudes) continue to role in electoral politics?” wrote lead investigator Anthony Greenwald, a UW psychology professor. “One possible answer is that, as President, Barack Obama is now more powerful than he was as candidate Barack Obama in 2008. This increased power and status may have brought out race-based antagonism that had less reason for being activated in 2008. Another possible answer is connected to Republican candidates’ frequent assertions that their most important objective is to remove Barack Obama from the presidency.”