When Do Welfare Attitudes Become Racialized? The Paradoxical Effects of Education


  • Christopher M. Federico is Assistant Professor of Psychology and Political Science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. The author would like to thank the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research, through which the 1992 National Election Study and 1990 General Social Survey data were made available; the Survey Research Center at UC Berkeley, for the 1991 National Race and Politics Study data; and Eugene Borgida, Leonie Huddy, Stanley Feldman, and Chris Parker for their comments and suggestions. Portions of Study 1 were presented at the 2002 meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association in Chicago, Illinois.

Christopher M. Federico is Professor of Psychology and Political Science, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, 75 E. River Road, Minneapolis, MN 55455 (federico@umn.edu).


Recent research suggests that welfare attitudes may be shaped by negative perceptions of blacks, suggesting an implicit racialization of the policy. But what might inhibit the racialization of welfare? In this vein, research indicating that education facilitates tolerance suggests that negative racial perceptions and welfare attitudes may be less related among the educated. However, education may also be associated with a greater ability to connect general predispositions with specific policy attitudes. Somewhat paradoxically, this suggests that the association between racial perceptions and welfare attitudes may be stronger among the college-educated, despite their lower overall levels of racial hostility. Study 1 shows that education attenuates negative racial perceptions, while strengthening their impact on public-assistance attitudes—but only when assistance is described as “welfare.” Study 2 extends and qualifies this finding, showing that education strengthens the relationship between perceptions of welfare recipients and global welfare attitudes only when recipients are black.