“The Washington Post” reports that a recent study using doctored photos of President Obama reveals that unconscious racism may be behind both the rise of the Tea Party and Donald Trump. While it may come as no surprise to you that your racist uncle loves Trump, it may well be a surprise to him that race is a factor at all. Honestly, everyone has biases that can blind them, which is what makes studies like these so telling.
Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer set out to understand some of the recent political upheavals in the US, including the rise of the tea party movement that led to the Republican takeover of the House in 2010. Like a lot of people, this left Willer questioning what was at the source:
‘That left a lot of analysts slack-jawed, wondering: What was this latent force that drove the emergence of this movement?’
So, in a series of studies conducted from 2011 to 2015, Willer and his colleagues sought to explore the possibility of unconscious racial biases at work among white voters. These experiments involved, among other things, showing people doctored pictures of President Obama.
Some groups saw pictures in which the president’s skin was lightened while others saw photos where his skin had been darkened. The results were astonishing. When subjects in each group were asked about their support for the Tea Party, those who saw the darkened photos of President Obama were twice as likely to voice support for the conservative movement.
Other experiments included showing some participants fictionalized reports that indicated white Americans as a privileged majority was declining. And once again, among those who perceived a threat to the white majority, Tea Party support increased markedly.
So what is the connection to Trump? Willer puts it this way:
‘A lot of analysts have been shocked to see a major party candidate receive so much popular support despite a track record of controversial statements toward multiple ethnic groups. It’s less surprising if you think of the tea party as a sort of historical bridge to the Trump candidacy.’
Willer’s study may have concluded just before the rise of Trump as a serious candidate but that does nothing to change the fact his campaign relies on fear of a loss of status among certain groups as well as the unconscious racial biases those same fears tend to foster.