Will Barack Obama Be Black in 2012? The Strategic Persistence of Stereotypes

34 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 25 Aug 2009

See all articles by Arthur Lupia

Arthur Lupia

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2009 8, 25


Racial identity is also a social construction. As such, others' perceptions of a person's racial identity are not a constant. They are potentially malleable. Indeed, many aspects of race-oriented social constructions have little relation to phenotypical correlates or the birthplace of one’s parents. So even if a person describes himself as half-black and half-white, others need not see him that way. If they want to, they can see him simply as black. Many descriptions of Barack Obama are consistent with such a view.

Will Barack Obama be black in 2012? In other words, if President Obama seeks reelection, will voters who saw him as black in 2008 continue to see him as such? At one extreme, the president's race could have no effect on how they see him. At the other extreme, it could be all that they see. So, if people change the racial lenses through which they view Obama, who will change and why?

This paper represents an initial attempt at a new research agenda. I want to integrate insights from cognitive psychology, communication, and economics to clarify the conditions under which racial stereotypes persist in political contexts. In this initial version of this paper, I will focus primarily on integrating a few insights from psychology into methods from applied math and economics to try to clarify what role race is likely to play for various Americans if Barack Obama seeks reelection as President of the United States in 2012.

My plan is to examine three causal factors: • aspects of human psychology that pertain to the processing of race-related information, • the continuing evolution of incentives in electronic media, and • matters pertaining to the strategic use of speech.

In addition to offering brief arguments that are intended to clarify how each of these factors will affect Americans' evaluations of Obama, I will seek to clarify how the effect of each of these factors depends upon the other two. As media incentives change, for example, people will receive different kinds of information about their president. While the relevant cognitive functions used to process such information are quite similar in most adults, the interactions of those functions with different – or even divergent – information flows -- will lead people to view Obama in different and divergent ways.

Keywords: racism, stereotypes, signaling model, discrimination, game theory, self-esteem

Suggested Citation

Lupia, Arthur, Will Barack Obama Be Black in 2012? The Strategic Persistence of Stereotypes (2009 8, 25). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1449870

Arthur Lupia (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Political Science ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States
734-647-7549 (Phone)
734-764-3341 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: www.umich.edu/~lupia

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