Following the civil rights movement, there was no strong link between racism and the political parties Americans supported, according to Brown University political scientist Michael Tesler. But that changed in 2008.
"The election of the country's first black president had the ironic upshot of opening the door for old-fashioned racism to influence partisan preferences after it was long thought to be a spent force in American politics," Tesler writes in the Journal of Politics.
Political scientists typically define "old-fashioned racism" as belief in the biological inferiority of blacks to justify practices such as racial segregation and discrimination. AlterNet reports. Tesler measured the amount of old-fashioned racism voters harbored by examining their attitudes on interracial dating. He found that the more discomfort voters had with interracial relationships the more likely they were to vote against Barack Obama. He did not find great evidence of racism when voters were asked to choose between Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Tesler also examined the 2010 mid-term election results, finding that racism influenced voters to oppose Democratic Congressional candidates that year. During the 2006 mid-term elections, though, racism had "relatively little impact on white Americans' voting behavior."
The bad news is that Tesler predicts that "enhanced polarization of white partisanship" will "leave a lasting mark on American politics that endures after [Obama] leaves office." He also predicts that there will be a rise in racist political talk and that Americans who buy into such rhetoric will tend to believe that the Democratic Party doesn't represent them, AlterNet reports.
"The evidence suggests that Obama simultaneously activates both old-fashioned racism and (21st-century) racial resentment," Tesler writes. "The most plausible explanation for that dual activation is that Obama independently taps into both the classic symbolic racism theme that blacks have too much influence in politics, and old-fashioned racists' concerns about the leadership of a president from a racial group whom they consider to be intellectually and socially inferior."