The Journal of Politics


The Return of Old-Fashioned Racism to White Americans’ Partisan Preferences in the Early Obama Era

Michael Tesler

Brown University


Old-fashioned racism (OFR) was unrelated to white Americans’ partisan preferences throughout the post-civil rights era. This study argues OFR could return to white partisanship following decades of dormancy because of Obama’s presidency. After first demonstrating that such attitudes were significantly stronger predictors of opposition to Obama than ideologically similar white Democrats, I support that spillover hypothesis with the following evidence: opposition to interracial dating was correlated with white partisanship in 2009 despite being unrelated to party identification in 12 earlier surveys; moreover, evaluations of Obama completely mediated that relationship between OFR and partisanship; old-fashioned racism predicted changes in white panelists’ partisanship between 2006 and 2011; these attitudes were also a stronger determinant of midterm vote preferences in 2010 than they were in 2006, with that relationship once again mediated by President Obama; and experimentally connecting Obama to congressional candidates significantly increased the relationship between OFR and 2010 preferences.


  Michael Tesler is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Brown University, Providence, RI 02903.