Rachel Lienesch

Department of Political Science

Examining the Impact of Racial Justice Policy Messaging on Support from the White Left

Much has been written about the Democratic Party’s shift to the left on issues of racial justice and racial equity in the past few years. As part of this movement, an increasing number of Democratic politicians have started discussing and advocating for policies meant to address racial inequity by specifically helping nonwhite communities in the U.S. This racial policy messaging creates intense cross-pressures for White Democrats in the public because their Democratic partisan identity pushes them to support a message coming from a politician within their party, but their White racial identity may be threatened by this progressive messaging about race. Proposed policies that are perceived to benefit other racial groups at the expense of their own should be especially threatening to White Democrats because research in sociology has shown that individuals respond negatively when they feel their group’s access to resources is threatened by another racial group. In my experiments, I examine how White Democratic respondents react to politicians advocating for policies that specifically benefit nonwhite Americans. In my first survey experiment, I find that White Democrats penalize politicians who take a more progressive position on racial equity in hiring (prioritizing hiring nonwhite applicants vs. using race-blind hiring), but reward politicians who take a more progressive position in other issue areas. In my second experiment, I find preliminary evidence that local politicians who advocate for providing stimulus payments to only nonwhite members of the community are unsurprisingly penalized more than those who advocate for providing to stimulus payments to all community members, but are also penalized more than those who advocate for providing payments to only lower income members of the community. Results from both studies suggest that some White Democrats do not just react negatively to messaging about progressive racial justice policies, but also feel an increased sense of alienation from Democratic politicians who use such messaging.