The paper I discussed in my last post showed changes in an index of "racial resentment" from the American National Election Studies, which rose in 2008 and 2012. The authors interpreted this as evidence that whites felt the presidency of Barack Obama as a threat to their status. That reminded me that I had a post mentioning the index several years ago. The index is the sum of responses (strongly agree .... strongly disagree, reverse coded for #2 and #3) to the following statements:
1. Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
2. Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.
3. It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.
4. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.
At the time, I said "this scale certainly measures something of interest, but 'resentment' doesn't seem like the right term." That was just my feeling based on reading the questions--does the data shed any light on the issue? Let's start with looking at changes (among whites) over the entire period covered by the ANES:
So either racial resentment fell dramatically among whites in 2016, or the index doesn't really measure racial resentment. The first interpretation doesn't seem very plausible, but the ANES survey has two parts, one of which takes place after the election, and that's the part in which these questions were asked. So you could say that perhaps white fears of threats to their status fell after Trump was elected. If we break it down by the party that people voted for (non-Hispanic whites only):
From 1988 through 2012, the means for Republican voters gradually rose and the means for Democrats fell, which is to be expected given general ideological polarization over the period. The elections of 2008 and 2012 don't stand out as unusual. Then in 2016, the mean fell a little among Republican voters, and a lot among Democratic voters. The first change is consistent with the idea that people who would otherwise have felt threatened were reassured because they had a president who would look after them, but the second is puzzling from that point of view. You would have to say that Democratic voters were the ones who were secretly yearning for a protector, and felt most reassured by Trump's win.
So I stand by my earlier thought that this index doesn't measure resentment. My next post will offer some thoughts on what it does measure.