Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race



The Role of Racism and Patriotism in the 2008 Presidential Election

Christopher S. Parkera1 c1, Mark Q. Sawyera2 and Christopher Towlera3

a1 Department of Political Science, University of Washington, Seattle

a2 Department of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles

a3 Department of Political Science, University of Washington, Seattle


Race and patriotism were recurring themes during the 2008 presidential campaign that were used to highlight differences between Barack Obama and his opponents. Yet we know little about how racism and patriotism ultimately affected support for Obama among Whites. Appeals to working-class Whites, a lot of which were thinly veiled allusions to Obama's race and perceived lack of patriotism, also figured prominently in the campaign. Accordingly, this paper explores how racism and patriotism shaped support for Obama, as well as the extent to which the effect of each is moderated by class. We find that rising symbolic racism dampened his support among Whites, as did patriotism. Moreover, we find the effects of patriotism on support for Obama were contingent upon class.


  • Racism;
  • Patriotism;
  • 2008 Presidential Election;
  • White Working Class


c1 Professor Christopher S. Parker, Department of Political Science, University of Washington, 117 Gowen Hall, Seattle, WA 98195. E-mail: csparker@u.washington.edu

Christopher S. Parker is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. He is the author of Fighting for Democracy: Black Veterans and the Struggle against White Supremacy in the Postwar South (2009). He has also published in the Journal of Politics and International Security. A veteran of the armed forces, Parker earned his PhD from the University of Chicago.

Mark Q. Sawyer is Associate Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at UCLA and Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity and Politics. He is the author of Racial Politics in Post-Revolutionary Cuba (2006), which was awarded the Du Bois Award for best book by the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, and the Ralph Bunche Award by the American Political Science Association.

Christopher Towler is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Washington, with a focus in American politics, race and ethnicity, and methodology. He earned his BA in political science and ethnic studies from the University of Colorado. His research interests currently include the examination of racial identity among African American youth, as well as the role of political attitudes and behavior in terms of political efficacy and political trust.


We'd like to thank Luis Fraga, Jack Turner, and the participants of the Race in American Politics Symposium on the 2008 Election, convened by the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race, and Sexuality (WISER), at the University of Washington, for their comments.