President Barack Obama, in his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, remarked that the massacre at Mother Emanuel A.M.E., “was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”
In a previous study, we find evidence to suggest that violence against black people is more likely to be classified by the public as a “hate crime,” but that such incidents are also perceived as being isolated, less destructive, and also less impactful on society at large than an act of terrorism. This suggests that the label of “hate crime” might minimize the seriousness of racial violence and imply that those incidents do not stem from similar wide-spread networks and ideologies that are associated with terrorism.
Does the label used to describe acts of violence such as these influence perceptions of the event? Here’s what our research suggests.
Labels shift emotional responses to racial violence
Our January 2020 survey experiment asked 1,012 subjects to read a brief breaking news story about a fictional shooting with several casualties. In the experiment, we alternated whether we described the incident as a “hate crime,” a “terrorist attack,” or a “mass shooting.” We also alternated the race of the perpetrator and the victims, describing them as either white or black. Subjects read a tweet about the fictional incident and then answered questions about their emotional reactions, their own perceived likelihood of victimization, and what punishments they believed were warranted by the attack.
We find that, regardless of who perpetrated the attack, subjects reported higher levels of anger after reading about an incident labeled as a “hate crime,” when a white male perpetrator targeted a black university. We find that there are no distinct differences in anger when comparing “terrorism” and “mass shooting,” nor under those labels do the race of the victim or perpetrator influence levels of anger.
While likelihood of personal victimization is slightly higher for those who see the hate crime condition with a white perpetrator, we see that this variable is not strongly influenced by treatments.
We also find that support for the death penalty to punish the shooting is significantly lower among subjects who read about a hate crime perpetrated by a black person.
The interaction of race and label matter as well
But, do all people perceive violence the same way? We cannot take for granted that violence, and racial violence at that, is viewed the same way by members of different racial groups, especially when long legacies of violence are in play.
Therefore, we also look at how these labels might elicit distinctive responses among white and non-white participants. Stratifying our sample this way, we find that there are distinct responses among members of different racial groups. Non-white respondents indicated greater support for the death penalty to punish the crime in all conditions that had a white perpetrator, regardless of the label. However, we see little difference across conditions among white subjects.
Racial group attachment moderates these in a way that we might expect – the lowest support for the death penalty is among white subjects with high racial group attachment who read about a hate crime committed by a white perpetrator. Among non-white subjects we see that higher racial attachment is associated with greater support for the death penalty in all conditions with a white perpetrator. Support is consistent in conditions with a black perpetrator.
Additionally, non-white subjects who read about an act of terrorism committed by a white actor reported a higher likelihood of victimization than white respondents in the same condition.
We also find that anger is stable for all, white and non-white subjects, who saw a terrorism condition, regardless of if the perpetrator is white or black.
Anger increases slightly among non-white people who saw a mass shooting targeting black people. But, anger is significantly higher among non-white people who read about a hate crime targeting black people, when compared to those who read about a hate crime targeting white people. We see no significant changes among white subjects across these conditions.
Labels can send a powerful message to the public
While the label “terrorism” has come to be associated with acts of violence committed by Islamists, the term has long been used by black people to describe white violence against them. Regardless of legal parameters, we wondered if using the term “hate crime” to instead describe these acts minimizes public perceptions about them. Our research suggests that calling an act of violence a “hate crime” has little effect on perceptions of violence for white Americans. For non-white Americans, however, we find that this label is associated with greater anger in reaction to the incident.
The boundaries of the law determined the charges levied against the perpetrator of the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. killings, but the press, politicians, and the public grappled for language to describe them. Our research suggests that while the the term “terrorism” seems more rhetorically evocative of a long history of violence against black people, it does not necessarily evoke greater anger than use of the term “hate crime” or “mass shooting.” In fact, among non-white respondents, “hate crime” elicits the greatest anger.
Emotions hold powerful political potential, anger in particular has been shown to incite political participation. The words used to describe violence do matter, for the images and narratives they conjure, as well as the emotions they evoke.
Kiela Crabtree (@kielacrabtree) is a PhD. candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan.
Corina Simonelli (@CorinaSimonelli) is a PhD. candidate in Political Science and the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
A panel of prominent political scientists presented their research at the panel “One Hundred Years of Women Voting: The Nineteenth Amendment’s Legacy and Current Implications” on Monday, February 24, 2020. The experts discussed the political behavior of women leading up to and since the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Jenna Bednar, professor of political science at the University of Michigan and research faculty at the Center for Political Studies, moderated the discussion. The event was part of the U-M Department of Political Science Rubin Speaker Series and U-M Suffrage 2020 event series.
Mara Ostfeld, Christina Wolbrecht, Angela Ocampo, and Corrine McConnaughy
Popular views of women voters over the past 100 years, and what the evidence actually tells us about them
In the first several decades of women’s suffrage in the U.S., understanding of women’s political behavior was based on rhetoric, not based on data, said Wolbrecht. Data does show that married women often voted as their husbands did. Political experts interpreted this correlation as evidence of political disinterest on the part of women, but this conclusion was not based on data. Following the belief that women didn’t form independent political opinions, Gallup used quota controlled sampling that undersampled women. The American Voter describes women as following their husband’s wishes rather than voting according to their own beliefs.
Wolbrecht argues that these unsupported conclusions still matter today because these books are still read today. She emphasizes that although married women often vote as their husbands do, we don’t know who is influencing whom.
Political Pioneers: Women of Color as Candidates and Elected Officials
Angela X. Ocampo, a research fellow in the department of political science and the Center for Political Studies, presented current research assessing the representation of women of color as political candidates and elected officials. “Women don’t get access to vote until their racial group does,” said Ocampo, noting that women of color were still denied the right to vote or hold elected office on the basis of race after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
Most research on women of color in elected office focuses on the federal level, but Ocampo, along with her research collaborator, Ana Oaxaca, is studying representation in local government. Their research shows that women are most likely to be elected from places that are protected by the Voting Rights Act. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which significantly weakened the Voting Rights Act, Ocampo sought to understand how the representation of women of color was affected at the local level.
To answer this, she’s analyzing data on city councils in the 300 largest U.S. cities to isolate the factors that are associated with a high proportion of women of color council members. Women of color are underrepresented in city councils, making up only 10% of council members. Ocampo finds that the more Democratic a locality is, the higher the proportion of women of color and minority council members. Proxies of political power are also important. When there is a higher proportion of more minority voters in a city, the proportion of women of color and minority council members also increases.
Ocampo concludes that gains have been made in representation, but parity is yet to be achieved. Representation of women of color and minorities depends on political pressures and the voting power of minority voters. She cautions that upward trends in the representation of women of color and minorities will likely be derailed by efforts to suppress minority votes.
Hidden Politics: Women’s Organizing and the Shape of American Democracy
Corrine McConnaughy is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. She earned her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and worked closely with many of the faculty during that time.
McConnaughy said that to find examples of women doing political work in the period before suffrage, we must look beyond formal suffrage organizations. Whether political organizing was taking place within suffrage organizations or other organizations, historians find common themes in women’s political activity in the period before the nineteenth amendment. Women were doing crucial service work in their communities and creating innovative ways to gain power. Importantly, women were doing political work as women, but not unified by womanhood.
The suffrage movement faced challenges because women were not seen as a promising voting bloc, McConnaughy said. Because so many people believed women would vote as their husbands did, no party stood to gain an advantage by allowing women to vote. For this reason, bi-partisan support was essential to gaining franchise. The ability to form coalitions with other groups also proved essential. Suffragists were well-organized and good at raising money, which made them attractive coalition partners.
Why Women Oppose Policies that Support Women
The final speaker was Mara Ostfeld, is a Faculty Associate with the Center for Political Studies and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science. She presented research she is conducting with two graduate students, Lauren Hahn and Sara Morell.
Ostfeld framed their question: “In the 100 years that women have had access to voting rights, and in the context of women constituting the majority of voters in America, why hasn’t there been more progress for policies to provide women with equitable opportunities?” She cited statistics to illustrate the issue: 20% of women say that reports of the gender pay gap are overblown; one-third of women say that women who complain about sexual harassment create more problems than they solve; another third believe that at least half of the time that women demand equality, they’re actually seeking special favors.
Family socialization is the key reason for these beliefs, according to Ostfeld. “Unlike other marginalized groups, women are not raised in women-majority environments,” she noted.
Ostfeld, Morell, and Hahn conducted a survey to gauge how women believe their family members would react to taking pro-women positions, to assess how women perceive the social costs of their beliefs within their families. The survey also asked about the polices the women supported. Ostfeld found clear evidence that women who believed they will be stigmatized for embracing policies to promote gender equality are far less likely to support those policies. Even among women respondents who recognized the gendered disparities motivating the policies, they were still less likely to support policies promoting gender equality if they felt their family members would stigmatize them for doing so.
“Racial animus is in the air we breathe,” Streeter says, “but when we look at police violence, we can get distracted by race and ignore other important factors.” Her dissertation included an experiment to examine how the race of victims of police violence determines whether the public sees the violence as just. Surprisingly, she finds that the race of the victims is less salient than expected. Instead, the social context strongly shaped the attitudes of the respondents. Those who were predisposed to consider societal and institutional forces were less likely to believe the victim deserved the outcome, compared to respondents who place sole responsibility on the individual.
Racial differences in rates of protest
Half of the people killed by police each year are white, and yet the rate of protest over white victims of police violence is very low. A dataset that Streeter is currently completing includes all publicly available information on police killings and any protests that happened in 2015-2016. For those two years, about a third of the police killings of African Americans led to some sort of protest, but when whites were killed by police, protests occurred only five percent of the time. “I argue that it’s the biggest racial gap related to policing,” Streeter says. “There are a lot of reasons we could point to why African Americans would be protesting. But why wouldn’t whites also be protesting when their community members are killed?”
When conducting field research in several different cities in the United States, Streeter asked community organizers about protests for white victims of police violence. The organizers told her that they reach out to the families of white victims, but those families often do not want to be involved with protests. Instead, many white family members express understanding and forgiveness toward the police. Streeter makes sense of these reactions by tying them to the psychological concept of a belief in a just world. The idea is that people get what they deserve and they deserve what they get. Streeter observes that even when people who hold this belief lose a member of their own family, their trust in the police remains unchanged. “If you have these beliefs, it can be like a double loss,” Streeter notes, which may explain why there are fewer protests for white victims of police violence.
The role of mentorship
Mentorship has played a large role in Streeter’s academic career. Christian Davenport became a mentor to her when she was a senior at Notre Dame. At that time, Streeter was thinking about her career but hadn’t considered pursuing research. While working as a research assistant for Davenport, he encouraged her to pursue graduate work in political science. Streeter cites this support as a key reason she decided to come to the University of Michigan. She also gives credit to David Laitin and Jeremy Weinstein at Stanford, who pushed her to study the United States when she was training as a comparativist. “I had confusion about what my identity as a scholar would be if I changed paths, but they put my fears to rest, so I give them a lot of credit for helping me pursue this research path,” Streeter says.
In addition to her ongoing research on police violence, Streeter is turning her attention to the ways interpersonal violence affects the way that people think and act politically. She sees connections between different types of violence, including mass shootings, domestic violence, and suicide. “We don’t often see these as political violence, but they affect how people operate in the world,” Streeter says. She’s especially interested in the ways violence affects people differently based on gender. Streeter’s work is innovative and varied, but united by a common theme, which she sums up as “How does violence affect our world, and what are the aggregate consequences of that? That’s the big picture.”
Post developed by Katherine Pearson and Dianne Pinderhughes
Drawing from published work that will be compiled as a new book, Black Politics After the Civil Rights Revolution, Dianne Pinderhughes explored the arc of 20th-century civil rights reform and the growing political incorporation of African Americans into electoral politics when she delivered the2019 Hanes Walton, Jr. lecture. A recording of the lecture is available below.
Understanding the history of collective action is essential to tracing the development of 20th-century racial politics in the United States. Pinderhughes began by describing racial injustice in the U.S. starting with thePlessy v. Ferguson decision in 1896, which some consider the nadir of race relations in the U.S. Following this era, Pinderhughes described a period of innovation and institution building beginning in the early and mid 20th century, which saw the development of legal defense funds and an increase of racial diversity in academia.
Social and political scientists recognize the gradual increase in African American political participation and the increasing numbers of elected officials of color. As the political dynamics of the eras changed, Pinderhughes described how African Americans have pushed to enter, to change, and to reframe their status.
Pinderhughes posits that the election of Donald Trump in 2016 posed a direct challenge to that framing of the evolution of successful racial reform. In doing so, she asks whether the U.S. is entering a new nadir. “My own work around these issues of democracy, political participation and efforts to integrate on a stable basis, and to begin to address the economic and political dimensions of citizenship, was challenged by how they might be framed,” Pinderhughes said. “But most of that work began from and was conceptualized within a relatively stable set of policy values and expectations, and that racial and ethnic exclusion was no longer possible, or acceptable.”
In the end, Pinderhughes concludes that the state of politics in the 21st century is far more hopeful than the nadir of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Institutional reforms have substantially recreated the American electoral and political process. Race is central to American life, and it will continue to be a dynamic force in electoral politics.
The Hanes Walton, Jr. lecture series was launched in 2015, in honor ofHanes Walton, Jr. One of the most influential and productive political scientists to emerge from the civil rights era, Walton published numerous journal articles, several book chapters, and authored more than twenty books. Walton is remembered for his in-depth subject knowledge, sense of humor, and ability to connect with his students. He was a caring and supportive mentor to his countless graduate and undergraduate students, many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers in academia and industry.
Since the 2016 presidential campaign anti-immigration policies have been very popular among President Trump’s strongest supporters, though they do not present obvious benefits to the economy or national security. Strategists suppose that the intent of the anti-immigration rhetoric and policies is to energize the president’s base.
But what about people who identify with the targets of these policies, specifically Latinos? Are they mobilized against anti-immigration proposals, or are they further deterred from political participation?
The role of emotions in politics is complex. The research team begins with the observation that negative emotions do not always have negative consequences for politics. Indeed, negative emotions may promote attention and interest, and drive people to vote. They draw a distinction between different negative emotions: while anger may spur political action, fear can suppress it.
The research team fielded a nationally-representative panel survey of white and Latino registered voters before and after the 2018 midterm elections. Respondents were asked about their experience with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and their exposure to campaign ads focused on immigration. Participants were also asked to rate their emotional reactions to the current direction of the country.
The results showed that Latinos interacted with ICE more frequently than whites did, but both groups had the same level of exposure to campaign ads. Latinos reported more anger than whites, and also more fear. In fact, among the negative emotions in the survey, fear among Latinos was highest.
In the sample the validated voting rate among Latinos was 39%; among whites in the sample it was 72%, demonstrating the under-mobilization of Latino voters. Whether Latinos vote in greater numbers in 2020 may depend on whether they are mobilized by anger against anti-immigration rhetoric, or whether they are deterred by fear stemming from policies like ICE detention and deportation.
Of 987 individuals killed by police officers’ use of fatal force in 2018, 209 were black, and, of those, 200 were black men. The targeting and killing of unarmed black men has become a point of interest for news cycles and social movement organizations alike and is indicative of a fraught relationship between communities of color and police. With increasing press coverage over the past decade, academics have also begun to focus on the intertwining relationship between police use of force and race, complementing a long-standing literature which links blacks to perceptions of criminality, violence, and hostility. One area that is not well-developed, however, is how news coverage of police shootings influences attitudes towards police and policies related to policing for white Americans.
Building from research on race, media coverage, and policing, new research by Nicole Yadon and Kiela Crabtree examines reactions to police and policing by white people after they read about a police officer shooting a white man, a black man, or a dog. They find that news reports about police shootings change attitudes about police, but the strength of the reaction varies depending on who the victim is.
Specifically, Yadon and Crabtree’s study examines white individuals’ feelings towards police following exposure to news of a fatal police shooting. They designed a survey that presents participants with a fictional but realistic news report about a fatal police shooting. In one version the shooting victim is a black man, another reports that the victim is a white man, and in the third version the victim is a dog. Key information about the shooting remains the same across all three versions. A control story, unrelated to race or police shootings, was given to a control group for purposes of comparison with the three treatment groups. This experiment was conducted via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform, with 802 white participants. After reading one of the news reports, participants were asked a series of questions about their perceptions of the events in the article and about their attitudes towards police more broadly.
When asked whether they agree or disagree that police officers rarely abuse their power, the control group who had not read about a police shooting had a neutral response — about 0.49 on the 0 to 1 scale. Respondents who read about a white man or a dog being shot by police had a markedly different reaction. Participants who read an article about a white man shot by police had a 7 percentage point decrease in belief that police rarely abuse their power while those who read about a dog shot by a police officer had an 8 percentage point decrease. This is equivalent to survey respondents moving from feeling neutral about whether police abuse their power to a slight disagreement that abuse of power is rare after reading about either a White victim or dog victim.
Importantly, when white survey participants read about a black victim of a police shooting, it did not change their perception of abuse of power by police officers. Put differently, those who read about a black victim held views abuse police abuse of power that were indistinguishable from those who read the control story. The evidence suggests, then, that white respondents react more strongly to a police shooting if the victim is a dog than a black man.
A separate set of questions focused on interest in varying forms of political participation following exposure to the news story. Do white people feel moved toward political participation in response to a story about a police shooting? First, the survey asked whether respondents would support a civilian review board to oversee the police department in their community. Those who read about a police officer shooting a black man or a dog were no more likely to support a civilian review board than the control group. However, those who read about the shooting of a white man were more than 7 percentage points likely to support civilian review in their community.
A second question asked about interest in signing a petition urging Congress to take action towards reducing excessive use of force by police. In contrast to the civilian review board question, levels of support for signing a petition were very low across all groups. In fact, white participants do not appear increasingly motivated to urge Congress to take action against excessive police force regardless of the victim’s identity.
Taken together, Yadon and Crabtree’s results suggest that exposure to a news story about a police shooting draws strong reactions from white people. Of concern, however, is that such reactions are largely limited to viewing either a white man or a dog victim. Indeed, across most of the items which measure attitudes towards police, there are no statistically significant differences when comparing the control condition with the black victim treatment. Such connections are increasingly important to study as cities move toward tightening oversight of police forces and many such initiatives are presented to citizens at the ballot box. Thus, the attitudes citizens hold about police are not only their own. The public’s opinion has potentially lasting effects for the future of policing in local communities.