Marc Ambinder points the way (or, did, but the post is down now) to a study (PDF) which concludes that when presented with a picture of a biracial candidate for a job, those who agree with his stated positions are more likely to view a lighter picture of him as an accurate representation of his appearance. Meanwhile, those who disagree with the candidate are more likely to view a darker skinned picture of him as more accurate.
The study, which tests participants’ feelings about a novel biracial candidate and then Barack Obama, took place around the election last year, and noted voter intentions as part of the results.
Those who planned to vote for Obama thought the lighter picture of him was the most representative, and the authors write, “Our results suggest that voters themselves may alter how they see a racially ambiguous candidate, depending on their own level of support and their corresponding desire to see the candidate favorably.”
That is, instead of viewing a lighter skinned image of a person as ‘better’ due to media conditioning, people may be choosing all on their own to ‘lighten’ a candidate they like. This isn’t particularly surprising. (As I wrote about at TAPPED, racial prejudices and perceptions of skin color follow us everywhere, even into the virtual world.)
My first question — one that Ambinder didn’t ask, and one that wasn’t mentioned in the study results — was who were the participants? The results, which were actually tabulated from three separate studies, say that black people participated in two: they accounted for 3% of the participants in one, and 10% of participants in the other.
In the methodology, it’s noted that “we did not have enough Black participants to test reliably for differences between Black and White participants. Because we base our predictions on the participants’ political group membership (and not their race), we have not excluded any participants based on race in the results we report here. None of the results meaningfully changes when Black participants are excluded from the analyses.”
But wouldn’t the results have meaningfully changed if black participants had been included in the study in representative numbers? And if they didn’t, if black liberals lightened their preferred biracial candidate as well, then that would still be more interesting than another study on how white voters view black candidates.
Frankly, I suspect the lack of interest in the racial identity of the participants is due to an assumption that they were all white. But by excluding people of color in any meaningful way, and subsequently, the possible differentials, this study perpetuates the idea that whites are the sole arbiters of a biracial person’s political success — and that is deeply troubling.