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By Amber Randall
A Washington Post analysis relied on faulty methodology Monday in an attempt to prove that racism played a bigger role in the 2016 election than authoritarianism.
Thomas Wood, an assistant professor at Ohio State University, attempted to unpack voter motivations in the 2016 election by looking at three key narratives: income, authoritarianism, and racism. He then evaluated the narratives by looking at data from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES).
Wood concluded that racism played a bigger role, but he came to that conclusion by basing his claims on a questionable definition of “racism.” He used the “symbolic racism scale,” which “measures racial attitudes among respondents who know that it’s socially unacceptable to say things perceived as racially prejudiced,” rather than the textbook definition of racism.
“Rather than asking overtly prejudiced questions — ‘do you believe blacks are lazy’ — we ask whether racial inequalities today are a result of social bias or personal lack of effort and irresponsibility,” Wood explains in The Washington Post. He concludes that white Republicans are “racially prejudiced” because they are more likely to agree with a set of statements on attitudes about black people, work ethic and personal responsibility.
For example, the ANES study asks respondents how likely they are to agree with statements including this one: “‘Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should to the same without any special favors.” Another statement reads: “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”
Wood reasons those more likely to agree with those statements — white Republican voters — are more racially biased. But his conclusion doesn’t take into account other possible explanations for their answers aside from racism. While it can be argued that racial tensions played a role in the election, it’s questionable to claim that Republicans are racially biased based on a series of questions that could easily be showing Republican attitudes on work ethic and the role of government rather than their attitudes on black people in particular.
Using those questions to determine Republican racism involves a lot of assumptions that may or may not be accurate.
Media personalities were nevertheless quick to cite the WaPo piece as further proof that racism played a role in the 2016 election.
Actual data make it clear: Racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism or income inequality https://t.co/c2W4BKQ4po
— Justine Larbalestier (@JustineLavaworm) April 17, 2017
Well, look at that: It wasn't economic anxiety that motivated Trump voters. It was racism. https://t.co/IRAvBwsb1p
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) April 17, 2017
racism motivated Trump voters more than authoritarianism or income inequality https://t.co/aTiPr4xcE9 as we argued frequently in 2016
— Jennifer Rubin (@JRubinBlogger) April 17, 2017