Racial Priming Revived

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This comment addresses the growing controversy over the effects of implicit racial messages in politics. Many scholars find evidence that these implicit messages work and that they have racializing effects. However, the biggest study to date finds that racial messages—implicit or explicit—have no effects. In this paper I conduct a thorough review of several relevant literatures in order to adjudicate between these competing claims. I find that the large study's null findings conflict with 17 public opinion experiments involving over 5,000 subjects, 2 aggregate studies, and a large social psychology literature. Using different methods, samples, and settings, these studies show that racial cues do in fact racialize opinion. I explain the large study's null results by noting that its participants perceived only small differences across messages, that racial predispositions were measured just before exposure to the ad, thereby neutralizing the effect of the ad's racial cue, and that WebTV studies such as this one have failed to provide many subjects with their assigned ad. Thus, the weight of the evidence heavily favors the racial effect of racial cues and messages. I offer several directions for future research on racial communication and politics.Tali Mendelberg is Associate Professor of Politics at Princeton University ([email protected]). She is the author of The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality (Princeton University Press, 2001). She wishes to thank Oleg Bespalov and Dan Cassino for research assistance, Adam Berinsky, Claudine Gay, Martin Gilens, Vince Hutchings, Jon Krosnick, Shawn Rosenberg, and Nick Valentino for helpful feedback, and the Bobst Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences for research support.

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In Press
Perspectives on Politics