This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
An expansive body of research known as racial priming consistently shows that media and campaign content can make racial attitudes more important factors in Americans’ political evaluations. Despite those well-established racial priming findings, though, there are some lingering questions about this line of research that have not been adequately settled by the extant literature. Perhaps the most frequently debated issue involves the effectiveness of implicit and explicit racial appeals. Can explicit appeals that directly invoke race and/or racial stereotypes, for example, effectively activate racial attitudes in the political opinions of white Americans? Or do racial appeals have to be implicit in nature, making only coded references to race to prime racially conservative support for political candidates and public policies? Along with this important topic, additional questions are raised by the existing racial priming research, which include: Who is most susceptible to racial priming? Are political attacks on other minority groups, such as Muslims and Latinos, as potent as the appeals to anti-black stereotypes and resentments upon which the racial priming research is based? And how did Barack Obama’s presidency, which heightened the salience of race in the political discourse and increased the importance racial attitudes in the partisan preferences of Americans, affect the media’s ability to prime race-based considerations in mass political evaluations?