Mistaking Conservatives for Racists and Racists for Conservatives: Threat and the Intertwining of Racial Resentment and Ideology

Doctoral Dissertation


One of the biggest problems in political behavior research and popular discourse is for conservative attitudes and beliefs to be construed in terms of racial resentment. Furthermore, it is equally problematic for racists to be misconstrued as conservatives. While many examples of the conceptual overlap between conservatism and racial resentment exist in popular political discourse and within the public opinion and political psychology literatures, it is an open question as to whether or not conservatism and racial resentment can become more or less related under certain conditions. In this dissertation, I examine the following research questions: (1) to what extent is the relationship between conservatism and racial resentment moderated by a common covariate such as perceptions of a racial threat? (2) what are the policy implications of this relationship? I argue that the anxiety produced by the threat of racially egalitarian changes in the status quo conditions the relationship between conservatism and racial resentment, ultimately increasing opposition to racial policies. I conceptualize the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama – the first African American President of the United States – as a racial threat some whites perceive and utilize the 1992 and 2008 ANES Time Series Data, the 2006-2010 GSS Panel Data, and the 2007-2009 UCLA CCAP Panel Survey to assess my theoretical claims. I demonstrate that while political ideology, particularly conservatism, powerfully influences racial attitudes, the liberal-conservative distinctions in racial resentment evaporate under a perceived racial threat, making liberals who perceive such threats indistinguishable from conservatives. I also find that under perceptions of threat, the enhanced effect of racial resentment among political liberals increases opposition to explicitly and implicitly racial policies such as affirmative action and healthcare reform. I conclude this dissertation with a discussion of the implications of these results for political behavior research.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-04242013-145449

Author Janay C Cody
Advisor Darren W. Davis
Contributor Darren W. Davis, Committee Chair
Contributor Dianne Pinderhughes, Committee Member
Contributor Geoffrey Layman, Committee Member
Contributor David E. Campbell, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Political Science
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2013-03-19

Submission Date 2013-04-24
  • United States of America

  • political ideology

  • racial threat

  • racial resentment

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility and Access Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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