Three Essays on Race and Politics

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Three Essays on Race and Politics

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Title: Three Essays on Race and Politics
Author: Wasow, Omar Tomas
Citation: Wasow, Omar Tomas. 2013. Three Essays on Race and Politics. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Understanding how race shapes the lives of individuals and transforms institutions is central to social science. Yet, for many scholars, race is widely understood as a fixed and monolithic category that is resistant to manipulation. As a result, making causal claims about "immutable characteristics" such as race or ethnicity has been strongly discouraged by statisticians and experts of causal inference. In contrast to previous literature, I propose a different framework that, in some cases, reconciles race and causation. Using a lab experiment and observational data about the urban uprisings of the 1960s, I test whether racialized and politicized cues from a subordinate group (in this case, blacks) can change psychological, behavioral and attitudinal measures among a dominant group (in this case, whites). Looking at more than 750 violent protests that flared up in black neighborhoods across the United States, I examine whether increased exposure to signals of black unrest is associated with decreased support for the Democratic party. In the 1964, 1968, and 1972 presidential elections, I find a strong negative relationship between exposure to civil unrest and the county-level Democratic vote share. I find a similar negative relationship between exposure to violent protests and Democratic vote share in congressional elections between 1968 and 1972. Finally, I find that in counterfactual scenarios of fewer violent protests the Democratic presidential nominee, Hubert Humphrey, would have beaten the Republican nominee, Richard Nixon, in the 1968 election. In the lab experiment, I test how exposure to images of politicized and armed white and black men changes psychological, behavioral and attitudinal measures among subjects in the dominant (white) group. Methodologically, this study investigates the degree to which at least some aspects of race are better operationalized as variable, divisible, continuous and responsive to manipulation. Substantively, this experiment also attempts to assess the degree to which media representations of violence and politics might increase the salience of ethnic/racial identities, particularly in a dominant group. In the context of the 1960s urban uprisings, such a result might help explain why a significant subset of white voters switched away from the Democratic party, that had become identified with black interests, and towards candidates promising "law and order."
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