Sophistication and the antecedents of whites' racial policy attitudes: Racism, ideology, and affirmative action in America

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Abstract

A number of researchers have argued that the effects of prejudice on the racial policy attitudes and general political beliefs of white Americans may be restricted to the poorly educated and politically unsophisticated. In contrast, rather than being motivated by prejudice, the racial policy attitudes and ideological values of the politically sophisticated white Americans should be more firmly informed and motivated by the tolerant values at the heart of American political culture. These values include such things as individualism, notions of fair play, and devotion to the principle of equality of opportunity. We tested this hypothesis using white respondents from the 1986 and 1992 National Election Studies. Our evidence generally indicated that racial policy attitudes and political ideology were more powerfully associated with ideologies of racial dominance and superiority among politically sophisticated white Americans than among political unsophisticated white Americans. Moreover, even among the sophisticated, we found that various forms of egalitarianism predicted support for - rather than opposition to - affirmative action and that support for equal opportunity is not uniformly distributed across the political spectrum.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-176
Number of pages32
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Volume66
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2002
Externally publishedYes

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