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Backing Barack Because He's Black: Racially Motivated Voting in the 2008 Election


  • *Direct correspondence to Ray Block Jr., Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, 421 Wimberly Hall, Rm. 425A, 1725 State St., La Crosse, WI 54601 〈〉. The author will share all data and computer syntax (available upon request) for replication purposes. The author thanks Tashweka Anderson, Jeremy Arney, Jo Arney, Betsy Jane Becker, Christina S. Haynes, Will Moore, David C. Wilson, and the anonymous reviewers for their advice and encouragement.


Objective. If racial considerations influenced the outcome of the 2008 presidential election, then how did they shape the campaign, why did race matter, and for whom were such considerations important? I hypothesize that various racial attitudes exert unique influences on voters' support of Obama and that the effects of these attitudes differ by race.

Methods. Using a Time Magazine poll, I distinguish between “attitudes regarding Obama's ‘Blackness’” and “opinions about race relations,” and I examine such sentiments among White and African-American respondents.

Results. Regardless of race, Obama support was highest among voters who were “comfortable” with Black candidates. However, increased optimism with racial progress had no effect on Blacks' voting intentions, and it actually lowered Obama support among Whites.

Conclusion. The conventional wisdom is that African Americans “backed Barack because he is Black”; I demonstrate that Obama's race mattered more to White voters than it did to Blacks.