Do Explicit Racial Cues Influence Candidate Preference? The Case of Skin Complexion in the 2008 Campaign
38 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 31 Aug 2010
Date Written: 2010
Skin color is an explicit racial cue. Although there is strong evidence linking darker skin complexion to the activation of racial stereotypes and adverse societal outcomes, little is known about the extent to which this effect is in play during political campaigns. If white voters make use of this skin complexion cue, we would expect exposure to darker images of a minority candidate to result in a “dark-skin penalty” at the ballot box. We investigate the impact of skin complexion on support for Barack Obama at two different stages of the 2008 campaign: Study 1 occurred during the primary campaign and Study 2 during the closing stages of the general election. Our findings suggest that when citizens are still learning about a minority candidate’s personal background, subtle changes in skin complexion can have an effect on evaluations of that candidate and that citizens with higher levels of implicit racial bias are less likely to prefer a darker-skinned minority candidate.
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