Thursday, October 21, 2010

Post-racial society, 1949

A Gallup Poll in 1949 contained the question "Scientists are reported to be working on a drug that may be able to turn colored skins white. If such a drug were developed, people with colored skins who wanted to could turn (bleach) their skins white. Do you think this would be a good thing or a bad thing?" I don't know whether there really was talk of something like this at the time or whether it was just something they made up. In any case, 11% said it would be a good thing, 77% a bad thing, and the rest weren't sure.
  • Who was in favor? The survey asked about vote in the 1948 Presidential election. The two major party candidates, Truman (D) and Dewey (R), were both pretty progressive on civil rights by the standards of the time. There were also two minor-party candidates. On the left, there was Henry Wallace, who was a strong supporter of civil rights. On the right there was Strom Thurmond, the Governor of South Carolina, running under the States' Rights (Dixiecrat) party, which was about preserving segregation (this was the same Strom Thurmond who later was elected to the Senate, switched to the Republicans and served in the Senate until 2003).

  • 11% of Truman's voters thought the drug would be a good idea. Opinions among Dewey's supporters were just about the same, also at 11%. But 28% of Wallace's supporters thought it would be a good idea, compared to 0% of Thurmond's. None of Thurmond's supporters were undecided, either: 100% thought it would be a bad idea. There were only 40 Thurmond voters in the data set, but it's still pretty unusual to get unanimity in a group of that size. White southerners as a whole were strongly opposed, with 4% saying it would be a good idea and 6% unsure.

  • So basically, it seems like people with progressive views were more favorable. (That's also true if you compare using some other variables related to political outlook). Blacks, however, were not favorable--only 10% thought it would be a good idea, with 7% not sure.

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