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What Place Does Race Have in Politics?

All the controversy about Barack Obama's birth certificate, makes one wonder if racial prejudice among some white Americans--even if unintentional--influences their assessment of how well he is doing as President Researcher Eric Hehman investigated whether whites' racial prejudices influenced "how American" they perceived Obama to be, which would in turn predict their evaluations of his presidential performance. One way to do this was to compare how these people evaluated Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., or how African Americans evaluated either Obama or Biden. This would reveal how much racial prejudices affected their assessments.

Hehman collected responses from about 300 white and black members of his local community, asking them to evaluate the success in office of either Obama or Biden. He says, "Our predictions were ultimately supported. Whites who were racially prejudiced against blacks saw Obama as 'less American' and subsequently rated him as performing more poorly as president, while non-prejudiced whites, and both prejudiced and non-prejudiced blacks, did not do so. Additionally and importantly, this relationship was only found with Obama, and not in evaluations of Biden."

The idea for this research began about a year ago when Hehman noticed that the criticisms of Obama seemed to go beyond the kinds of criticisms that are commonly heard about presidents' policies and, instead, included some aspects that were "not really based in reality." He particularly noticed questions about Obama’s birth certificate, his religion and allegations that he was corrupting children with a socialist agenda. Hehman says, "I found these controversies fairly strange and wondered if the impetus behind them was rooted in racism, manifesting and rationalizing itself in accusations of Obama's 'un-Americanism.'"

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