My research explores puzzles at the intersection of race and American politics. Within American politics, I examine political behavior and psychology through the lenses of racial attitudes, Black politics, and economic inequality. Much of my co-authored work explores how Americans think about racial inequality, particularly the racial wealth gap. I am also broadly interested in how racial attitudes and emotions shape public opinion and motivate political participation. To this end, my collaborative research projects offer insights into timely political topics like the "Critical Race Theory" panic and debates about DEI in public education, the effectiveness of Black Lives Matter movement protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder, and support for reparations policies to reduce racial inequality.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles
McLaren, Leann & Zoe Walker. (2024). By Any Means Necessary? How Black and White Americans Evaluate Protest Tactics in Response to a Police Killing.
Abstract: The majority of protests in support of racial justice are peaceful. However, since the racial reckoning of 2020, there has been debate about when and how exposure to violent or disruptive protest activities can shift public opinion towards a social movement. Using the Black Lives Matter Movement as a lens, we design a survey experiment to test the causal effects of different protest tactics on support for protesters and the movement itself among Black and white Americans. We include a control condition with no protest and manipulate the level of disruption in each treatment condition, ranging from a simple march in response to the police killing of an unarmed Black man to a protest in which participants set fire to an empty police headquarters. We use OLS regressions to estimate average treatment effects across conditions. Overall, we find that both Blacks and whites react negatively to more disruptive protests but whites tend to react more negatively than Blacks. Conversely, we also find that whites overall report more confidence in the ability of Black Lives Matter to facilitate racial equality after exposure to a protest, even when that protest employs disruptive tactics. We also test for the moderating effects of racial identity among Black respondents and racial attitudes among white respondents. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings for the broader literature on social movements and public opinion.
Accepted @Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Politics
Hudgins, Kamri, Erykah Benson, Zoe Walker, Sydney Carr, Jasmine Simington, Jessica Cruz, Vincent Hutchings, Earl Lewis, Mara Cecila Ostfeld and Alford Young Jr. (2024). Crafting Democratic Futures: Understanding Political Conditions and Racialized Attitudes toward Black Reparations in the United States of America.
Abstract: As a growing number of states and municipalities across the country consider reparative policies for Black Americans, it is important to understand what shapes support for and opposition to these policies. In this paper, we explore the role that awareness of racial inequality plays in shaping attitudes toward reparations. Drawing on data from a large, representative survey experiment in Detroit and one national survey experiment, we find that awareness of racial inequality plays a powerful role in the likelihood of supporting reparative policies. Yet, in follow-up survey experiments, we find that exposing respondents to information on the rationale for and importance of reparations does not shift public support. These findings suggest that it is the awareness of racial inequality that is cultivated over time, through either lived experience or proximity to those most impacted and that is likely reinforced by multiple institutions that appear to be the dominant force in building support for reparations. These findings are particularly important during a time when many school districts are severely restricting access to information about the history of Black Americans.
Accepted @ RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences
Manuscripts in Preparation
If They Only Knew: Informing Blacks and Whites About the Racial Wealth Gap (with Vincent Hutchings, Kamri Hudgins and Sydney Carr).
Summary: Even after the George Floyd protests in the summer of 2020, most White Americans continue to oppose racially liberal policies. Similarly, Black support for racially redistributive policies is often less than monolithic. Would support for policies to eradicate racial inequality increase if common misperceptions held by White and Black Americans about racial inequality were corrected? We examine this question with two survey experiments fielded online by CloudResearch that focus on the racial wealth gap. Study 1 (N=1,908) was fielded at the height of the George Floyd demonstrations in June of 2020. Subjects were randomly assigned either to a control condition, where they were merely provided a definition of the racial wealth gap, or to one of two treatment conditions that provided textual and visual information on the current size of the Black/White racial wealth gap based on information from the Survey of Consumer Finances. In general, we find that the treatment conditions do increase information levels on the presence and perceived size of the racial wealth gap, although mostly for Whites, but they typically do not increase support for racially redistributive policies. In a second experiment, fielded in March of 2021, we sought to replicate the results of the 2020 experiment and add two additional treatment conditions highlighting the fact that the median household headed by a Black college graduate has about the same amount of wealth as the median household headed by a White high school dropout. This Study 2 experiment represents an even stronger test of the hypothesis that public support for racially egalitarian policies would increase if Americans only knew the truth. Again, we find (at least among Whites) that our treatments do inform participants about the size of the racial wealth gap. However, we find little evidence of increased policy support and some unanticipated evidence of a backlash effect among White liberals. We discuss the implications of our findings for the prospects of racial reconciliation in our conclusion.
What You Don’t Know Can Still Hurt You: Correcting Black Misperceptions about the Racial Wealth Gap (with Vincent Hutchings, Kamri Hudgins and Sydney Carr).
Summary: In the wake of the 2020 protests for racial justice, renewed attention has been focused on persistent levels of inequality between Blacks and Whites. Arguably, the most staggering measure of inequality is the racial wealth gap. Previous scholarship has shown that African Americans are generally misinformed about the magnitude of this economic divide. However, researchers know very little about whether informing Blacks about this phenomenon would dispel these misperceptions and induce greater support for policies designed to reduce or eliminate it. Additionally, little is known about the demographic and attitudinal moderators that might facilitate African American receptiveness to corrective information about the racial wealth gap. In this paper, we examine these questions with three online survey experiments and information gleaned from focus groups regarding what Blacks know about the racial wealth gap, whether their misperceptions can be corrected, and whether exposure to accurate information about this gap leads to greater support for either race-targeted or race-neutral policy remedies. Across each of our studies, we find some limited evidence that misperceptions can be dispelled, but almost no indication that such interventions lead to greater support for remedial policies. We explore whether study participants fully comprehend the crippling implications of the racial wealth gap. We also find some evidence that subsets within the Black community are more receptive to corrective information than are others, with consistent evidence in Study 3 that Black college graduates respond to our treatments.
Angry White Parents: How Race and Emotions Mobilize Participation in Local School Board Politics (with Hilary Izatt and Francy Luna-Diaz).
Summary: Outrage over public schools allegedly teaching critical race theory (CRT) to students has inspired backlash against local school boards from parents, politicians, and political action groups alike. While ``CRT" itself is often vaguely defined by political actors, it nevertheless could have mobilizing power in local politics. We show that anger mediates the effect of exposure to teaching about race in schools on school board participation. Using a novel survey experiment conducted through YouGov, we find white respondents become angry when learning that schools will teach about racial discrimination. As anger increases among whites, so does their propensity to participate in school board politics. These findings hold for white Democrats, and white Republicans. Further, we find that the angriest whites are also more likely to donate their survey reward to an organization that lobbies for changes in school curricula. In contrast, Black respondents show no increases in anger or participation when exposed to our treatments. Our findings are robust to multiple sensitivity analyses and have implications for the relationship between racial attitudes, emotions, and participation.
"How do Americans react to the racial wealth gap?" (Institute for Social Research blog post)