The comments made by Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling this month demonstrate that the U.S. is far from a colorblind society. And the reaction to their comments has drawn further attention to the fraught relationship between racism and partisan politics. When racist statements by high-profile figures are made public, some news commentators become preoccupied with trying to discern the speaker’s political affiliation.
We were curious about the long-term trends in racial attitudes as expressed by Americans in polls. Are Republicans more likely to give arguably racist responses in surveys than Democrats? Have the patterns changed since President Obama took office in 2009?
Two warnings about this [sic] data. First, survey responses are an imperfect means of evaluating racism. Social desirability bias may discourage Americans from expressing their true feelings. Furthermore, the sample of Democrats and Republicans in the survey is not constant from year to year. If the partisan gap in racial attitudes toward blacks has widened slightly in the past few years, it may be because white racists have become more likely to identify themselves as Republican, and not because those Americans who already identified themselves as Republican have become any more racist.