Previous scholarship on the effect of candidate race on voter evaluations and behavior finds that black candidates are disadvantaged. With the election of the first African-American president, do voters still view black candidates as less qualified and more liberal? Prior research may not be current for the 21st century, and despite a broad literature that focuses on the role of race in American Politics, growing interest in Latino politics tends to focus on Latino voters rather than evaluations of Latino candidates. Both literatures also overlook how voters use both race and ethnicity cues along with candidate partisanship.
This dissertation explores the effect of candidate race and ethnicity on voter evaluations and behavior. Cue Consistency Theory develops hypotheses about how voters will react to these cues in isolation as well as how they interact with candidate partisanship. Original survey experiments were conducted to inquire how candidate race affect voter evaluations of the candidate’s ideology, issue position, competence and qualifications, as well as voter behavior.
Overall, the results of the non-partisan context show that Democratic respondents inferred Democratic partisanship from black and Latino candidates, and were particularly favorable in their evaluations and support of these candidates. In a partisan context, race and ethnicity does not have an additive effect, that is black and Latino Democrats are not perceived as more liberal than an identical white Democrat. Likewise, on most measures of ideology and issue position, black and Latino Republicans were not perceived as less conservative than an identical white Republican. In general, race and ethnicity does not negatively affect perceptions of competence and qualifications, nor does it affect turnout and candidate support.
On some measures of respondents’ attitudes, Republican respondents were less favorable towards black and Latino candidates. Specifically, in a non-partisan context, Republicans found the black candidate less qualified, and those with cold to neutral feelings towards blacks were less likely to support that candidate. In the partisan context, the Latino conservative Republican was particularly disadvantaged; being perceived as more liberal on taxing and spending, as well as less capable of balancing the budget and working with leaders in business and industry.