The Journal of Politics

Articles

The Conceptualization and Measurement of Symbolic Racism

Christopher Tarmana1 c1 and David O. Searsa1 c2

a1 University of California, Los Angeles

Abstract

The conceptualization and measurement of symbolic racism have been the subjects of a number of critiques, of which we address four: (1) we briefly review the history of its past conceptualization, which has been somewhat loose, and of its past measurement, which has been more consistent than often suggested. We then address three other critiques empirically. In each case the results support the original theory: (2) symbolic racism is an internally consistent belief system; it does have individual and structural variants, but they are highly correlated and have virtually identical effects on whites' racial policy preferences; (3) the effects of symbolic racism on whites' racial policy preferences are not artifacts of shared-item content with policy-attitude items (both conclusions are replicated in quite similar form in two surveys); and (4) symbolic racism is a distinctive belief system in its own right, encompassing a set of attitudes different from those in ideological conservatism, antiegalitarianism, individualism, and old-fashioned racism (a conclusion replicated in similar form in six surveys). Perhaps most importantly, the effects of symbolic racism on racial policy preferences are the same regardless of which conventional measure of symbolic racism is used.

(Online publication July 15 2002)

(Received November 18 2004)

Correspondence:

c1 Christopher Tarman (ctarman@ucla.edu) is a Ph.D. Candidate of political science, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1484.

c2 David O. Sears (sears@issr.ucla.edu) is Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Political Science and Director of the Institute for Social Science Research, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1484.

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