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Keywords:

  • Barack Obama;
  • Jeremiah Wright;
  • media cues;
  • candidate evaluations;
  • racial attitudes

This study examines the broad political impact of controversial sermons by Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor, which aired during the 2008 presidential primaries. Although commentators speculated about the possible repercussions of this event for Obama's candidacy, no one has actually tested these claims in practice and positioned the episode within a larger narrative of American racial politics. Using national survey data, I discuss differences between Blacks' and Whites' perceptions of the videos and their effects on citizens' attitudes. Among Whites, individuals who are bothered by Wright's assertions feel negatively toward Obama and express apprehension about his ability to unite people around common goals. Blacks' familiarity with African American religion provides a context for understanding the messages and they are not distracted by the controversy. More generally, the findings emphasize that cultural differences among groups help explain variation in opinions, shows how unflattering news reports influence evaluations of Black candidates, and highlights the significance of racial issues in political campaigns.