The Spillover of Racialization into Health Care: How President Obama Polarized Public Opinion by Racial Attitudes and Race


  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at the third annual West Coast Experiments Meeting in May 2010 and the annual meeting of the International Society of Political Psychology in July 2010. I am very grateful to Jim DeNardo, Zoltan Hajnal, Shanto Iyengar, Mary McThomas, Jim Morone, David O. Sears, Lynn Vavreck, Rick Wilson, John Zaller, and especially two anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback. Special thanks also go to the National Science Foundation for financial support of this project (SES-0968830). Replication data from the November 2009, CCAP Reinterview Survey can be found at my website, All other survey data used in this study are publicly available from the American National Election Study's ( and Roper Center's data archives (

Michael Tesler is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Brown University, 36 Prospect Street, Providence, RI 02903 (


This study argues that President Obama's strong association with an issue like health care should polarize public opinion by racial attitudes and race. Consistent with that hypothesis, racial attitudes had a significantly larger impact on health care opinions in fall 2009 than they had in cross-sectional surveys from the past two decades and in panel data collected before Obama became the face of the policy. Moreover, the experiments embedded in one of those reinterview surveys found health care policies were significantly more racialized when attributed to President Obama than they were when these same proposals were framed as President Clinton's 1993 reform efforts. Dozens of media polls from 1993 to 1994 and from 2009 to 2010 are also pooled together to show that with African Americans overwhelmingly supportive of Obama's legislative proposals, the racial divide in health care opinions was 20 percentage points greater in 2009–10 than it was over President Clinton's plan back in 1993–94.