Ongoing Research Projects

Angry White Parents: How Race and Emotions Mobilize Participation in Local School Board Politics

with Hilary Izatt and Francy Luna-Diaz

Shortly after the publication of The 1619 Project, pundits and political leaders began debating how race should be discussed in public schools. At the same time, social media exploded with viral videos of school board meetings (which typically have low attendance) showcasing heated interactions between large numbers of (mostly) white parents and school board leadership. Is increased attention to teaching race in schools changing participation rates among Whites in school board meetings? We explore why there is such an uptick in interest in local school board meetings across the United States and hypothesize that threats to racial identity, mediated by emotion, influences whites' likelihood of engaging in local public school politics.

Scholars of race and politics have long identified patterns of white backlash in response to perceived “threat” from non-white groups. This perceived threat drives whites to participate more in politics and adopt more conservative policy attitudes. However, previous work on the “power-threat” hypothesis is limited in two ways. First, this work has not considered the role of emotions in motivating political behavior in response to threat. While previous work has found that anger can fuel racial animus, much less attention has been paid to if and how racial animus causes increased anger. Second, existing studies operationalize the salience of racial threat through the physical presence of minorities, especially Blacks, in a local environment. We argue however that non-white groups need not be physically present to activate racial threat among whites. Craig and Richeson (2014) for example find that merely reading a news article about the growing number of non-whites in the United States is enough to activate threats in whites.

We contribute to this emerging area of research by proposing that racial threat can also be activated by openly discussing white racial privilege and non-white racial disadvantage in a public space. Similar to the way that increased proximity (real or imagined) to Blacks and other non-white groups raises the salience of racial threat, we propose that increased attention to teaching about white racial privilege in public schools is also threatening. We further argue that this increased sense of threat generates anger, an emotion that has been linked to increased political participation. Anger then drives whites to become more engaged in local politics to protect against threats to their privilege.

If They Only Knew: Informing Blacks and Whites about the Racial Wealth Gap

with Vincent Hutchings, Kamri Hudgins and Sydney Carr

In his seminal work on race in American politics, economist Gunnar Myrdal proposed White Americans would be be more open to racially redistributive policies "if they knew the facts" about the depths of racial inequality (Myrdal 1944). In this paper, we use an experiment to directly test Myrdal's hypothesis: 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.

Visualization by: Zoe Walker