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Racial divide determines US political affiliation

New research shows how racial differences in the United States increasingly drive polarization, more than any other marker such as class, religion, or ideology.

Published: December 3, 2018, 3:28 pm

    American political pundits have been commenting on how the two major American political parties are diverging and becoming more hostile towards each other.

    Even pollsters have gauged that Republicans and Democrats are more divided with partisan antipathy deeper and more extensive, than at any point in the last two decades.

    According to an award-winning paper by two political scientists Nicholas Valentino and Kirill Zhirkov, racial identity is more important than ideology in determining party affiliation.

    They argue that racial identification are linked with being either “Republican” and “Democrat” essentially translating into “white” and “non-white” respectively. And even though many Republicans claim to oppose it, future politics will be about race.

    Valentino and Zhirkov argue that racial differences between the parties drive polarization. “Over time, this gap in racial composition makes the best predictor of the affective distance between Democrats and Republicans. It works even better than ideological sorting, for instance,” Zhirkov noted.

    Thus, for most voters, politics reflect their racial group. While even some conservatives hoped that Barack Obama’s election would remove the “race card” from political landscape, the authors cite significant evidence that “the country’s first African-American president polarized the electorate and increased opposition to left-wing policies among racially conservative whites (Tesler 2016), may have increased racial resentment (Valentino and Brader 2011), and even boosted the acceptability of explicitly hostile racial rhetoric in the most recent campaigns (Valentino, Neuner, and Vandenbroek 2016).”

    In other words, the most recent US history has changed perceptions in the sense that Democrats “quite automatically are viewed as non-white” while “Republicans, on the other hand, are viewed primarily as a party of whites.”

    In summary, the authors noted: “Individuals do think of the two major US parties in racial terms and those beliefs impact their feelings about partisans on either side of aisle. Explicit racial schemas also appear to be more powerful predictors of affective polarization than ones based on religion or class.”

    The authors concluded that over the entire course of American history, it has been race — not class, religion, or ideology — that “imbue[s] partisan disagreement with the kind of antipathy we are now witnessing.”


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