Countering implicit appeals: Which strategies work?

Publication Year


Journal Article

Some contemporary politicians try to mobilize racial attitudes by conveying implicit racial messages against their opponents—messages in which the racial reference is subtle but recognizable and which attack the opponent for alleged misdeeds. Although targeted politicians have tried a number of different strategies to respond to implicit racial appeals, little is known about the effectiveness of these strategies. Using two survey experiments, we answer the following question: Does calling the appeal “racial” work? That is, does it neutralize the negative effects on the attacked candidate? We find mixed evidence that it does. However, offering a credible justification for the attacked behavior works more consistently. We also test whether effects vary by candidate race. The results suggest that Black candidates’ rhetorical strategies are more constrained than identical White candidates’, but that White Americans are more open to credible arguments and justifications than the previous literature implies.

Political Communication