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What's the Matter with Arkansas? Symbolic Racism and 2008 Presidential Candidate Support


Pearl K. Ford is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Arkansas and is affiliated with the African American Studies Program. She has edited African Americans in Georgia: A Reflection of Politics and Policy in the New South.

Angie Maxwell is a visiting assistant professor with the Blair Center of Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas. She is also coeditor of anthology of essays assessing the legacy of V. O. Key's Southern Politics in State and Nation.

Todd Shields is a professor of political science and director of the Diane Blair Center for Southern Politics and Society at the University of Arkansas.


The 2008 presidential election presented voters with the nation's first African American presidential candidate. Symbolic racism theory suggests that Obama's presence on the national ticket will activate a range of racial attitudes across the electorate. The authors examine two statewide surveys from Arkansas and Georgia in order to explore the importance of symbolic racism across different campaign contexts. The findings suggest that voting behavior was significantly influenced by symbolic racism. Consequently, the authors extend the symbolic racism literature by demonstrating the effects of these attitudes at the national level and across different campaign environments.