Emotional Substrates of White Racial Attitudes


  • Antoine J. Banks is Assistant Professor of Government and Politics, University of Maryland, 3140 Tydings Hall, College Park, MD 20742 (abanks12@umd.edu). Nicholas A. Valentino is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan, 4244 ISR, 426 Thompson St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109 (nvalenti@umich.edu).

  • This research was supported by the Gerald R. Ford Dissertation grant to the first author and by the Mike Hogg Endowment for Community Affairs and the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation while the second author was at the University of Texas at Austin. The authors thank Erin Byrd, Joanne Ibarra, Sanata Sy-Sahande, and Kerry Jones for excellent research assistance and Vincent Hutchings, Donald Kinder, Norbert Schwarz, and Eric Groenendyk for helpful feedback. Data needed to replicate the analyses presented in this article can be found at http://web.me.com/antoinebanks/Antoine_Banks/Research.html.


A steep decline in biologically based racial animus over the past four decades has not led to a softening of opposition to race-conscious policies such as affirmative action. One explanation for this is that a new racial belief system—referred to as symbolic racism or racial resentment—has replaced “old-fashioned racism.” Another is that nonracial values such as ideology and a preference for small government now drive policy opinions. Our theory suggests that whereas disgust once accompanied ideas about “biologically inferior” groups, anger has become fused to conservative ideas about race in the contemporary period. As a result, anger now serves as the primary emotional trigger of whites’ negative racial attitudes. We experimentally induce disgust, anger, or fear using an apolitical task and find anger is uniquely powerful at boosting opposition to racially redistributive policies among white racial conservatives. Nonracial attitudes such as ideology and small government preference are not activated by any of these negative emotions.