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Partisan Reinforcement and the Poor: The Impact of Context on Explanations for Poverty


  • *Direct correspondence to Daniel J. Hopkins, 1737 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02138 〈〉. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2005 Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association and the Harvard University American Politics Research Workshop. The author gratefully acknowledges Lauren Appelbaum, Andrea Campbell, Elisabeth Jacobs, Sunshine Hillygus, Jennifer Hochschild, Colin Moore, Ryan Moore, Helen Marrow, Andrew Reeves, and Joe Soss, all of whom provided feedback. Rosie Wu assisted with copy editing. SSQ editor Robert Lineberry and the anonymous reviewers provided valuable and often incisive suggestions as well. Please contact the author or refer to 〈〉 for replication materials.


Objective. Past research has demonstrated that Americans view poverty in racial terms, and that they often blame the poor for their situation. This article's objective is to determine if local contexts can influence these views.

Methods. Synthesizing racial and political theories of contextual effects, I use two nationally representative surveys to explore Americans' explanations for poverty.

Results. People living in areas where the poor are mostly white are less likely to attribute poverty to the failings of the poor themselves, as theories of racial threat would predict. However, a second finding is stronger: the percentage of the county that voted Republican in the last election consistently predicts less structural and more individualistic explanations of poverty.

Conclusions. Local processes of partisan reinforcement play a key role in shaping explanations of poverty.

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