White liberals are quickly moving leftward on racial issues in what has been called “The Great Awokening.” Zach Goldberg finds that white liberals are greatly increasing their perceptions of discrimination, their tolerance of academic identity politics, and their support for immigration and affirmative action, coaxed along by rising liberalism in social and online media. But Emily Wager finds that in diverse states, rising economic inequality is making the public more conservative on economic policy, as whites feel less connected to the people of their state. Like the international pattern, it may be hard to simultaneously advance diversity and liberal social welfare.

Studies: “America’s White Saviors” and “People Like Us?”  

Interviews: Emily Wager, University of North Carolina; Zach Goldberg, Georgia State University

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Matt Grossmann: This week on the Science of Politics, diversity and the advance of liberalism. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann.

White liberals are quickly moving leftward on racial issues and what has been called ‘The Great Awokening.” The reaction to Trump has only accelerated the move, which suggests identity politics and liberal economics might be able to rise together. But can progressive economic ideas appeal to Americans at a time of increasing diversity? Or will whites react to rising diversity and inequality by limiting redistribution?

Today, I talk to Zach Goldberg of Georgia State University about his new Tablet Magazine article, “America’s White Saviors.” He finds that white liberals are greatly increasing their perceptions of discrimination, their tolerance of academic identity politics and their support for immigration and affirmative action, coaxed along by rising liberalism in social and online media.

But I also talked to Emily Wager of the University of North Carolina about her new working paper “People Like Us.” She finds that in diverse states rising economic inequality is making the public more conservative on economic policy as whites feel less connected to the people of their state. Like the international pattern, it may be hard to simultaneously advance diversity and social welfare.

Matt Grossmann: Despite the global norm something different has been happening with white liberals in the US lately. Goldberg finds they’re growing much more liberal on race-connected issues, and that it precedes Trump.

Zack Goldberg: White liberals and Democrats, when it comes to racial issues (and not just racial issues, as I’ll probably explain later) issues like immigration and even the Palestinian conflict has kind of been racialized in a sense. On a lot of these issues the white liberals and Democrats have become more progressive than at any point in history, or at least in the past few decades. This shift has been not only dramatic, but also very recent, meaning also very sudden. Importantly, not all of this can be attributed to the rise of Trump, the Trump backlash theory. There’s evidence, meaning you could trace it even as early back as 2011. With immigration, you could even trace it back to the 2006 immigration protests. These attitudes are really, in many counts, they’re unprecedented. Both the increase in the progressivism is unprecedented, and just how quickly things have really developed.

Matt Grossmann: There is a real Democratic backlash to Trump, but we overestimate his role in the changes and attitudes.

Zack Goldberg: A lot of these trends are being viewed as, I guess, as a act of resistance or defiance against Trump’s rhetoric and policies that Trump’s divisiveness is bombastic, or racial rhetoric has really polarized the Democratic Party, and has really, I guess, elicited strong feelings of anger and of, obviously, sympathy towards other minority groups, and that a lot of this movement is directly stemming from the Trump phenomenon.

The truth is this account is partially true. Just to give a few examples when we look at attitudes towards the construction of the southern border wall, for instance which I’ve managed to find data going back to the early ’90s, we do see that attitudes towards the wall, towards building the wall really only started really souring, only really started heading in a downward trajectory once Trump enters the campaign race, and we find the same thing when it comes to, for example, viewing illegal immigration is a very serious problem. For decades white Democrats, and also white liberals majorities would say considered it a very serious problem. Then, obviously, Trump starts opening his mouth well, you could see the attitudes or those saying that it’s not a serious problem increase fairly rapidly.

Zack Goldberg: There are, obviously, attitudes which do appear to fit the conventional narrative of a, I guess, an elite-driven polarization. Trump taking stands on all these issues and this really triggering a backlash on the part of political opposition, but on other counts this doesn’t necessarily hold true. If you look in my analyses of the data, it shows that a lot of these trends really began somewhere between 2011, and 2014, which is obviously before Trump. Maybe he was engaging in birtherism at that point, but he had yet to officially and formally announce his candidacy. We see attitudes toward perceptions of discrimination against blacks, sympathy towards illegal immigrants that went up. In 2006 only 22 percent of white liberals said they were very sympathetic towards illegal immigrants and their families, and that doubled by 2014.

We also see, similarly, with attitudes towards the Palestinians, for example, where for decades, since 1978 up until 2014, you have majority or most of white liberals saying they sympathize with Israel than the Palestinians, and that trend, that decades long trend, completely evaporated.

Matt Grossmann: But Wager finds that’s diversity and support for reducing economic inequality through new liberal policy do not seem to go together in the American states.

Emily Wager: We know that as income inequality has arisen in the U.S., the public has responded with less demand for policies that serve to narrow inequality, and so my research asks why. I theorize that Americans believe in conditional equality, where they’ll support equalizing policies as long as they perceive the beneficiaries as people like me, people like themselves. However, as the country has grown more racially diverse, citizens are much less likely to perceive other citizens as people like themselves.

One of the ways I test my theory is I leverage variation between in both income inequality and racial homogeneity of the American states. I use, over time, public opinion data, and find evidence that in response to inequality and racially homogenous states the public will prefer governments to do more whereas in less homogeneous states they prefer government to do less in terms of economic interventions and so forth.

Matt Grossmann: She says that’s consistent with the international pattern even though we tend to think of diverse and liberal states like California.

Emily Wager: The conventional wisdom in political science, a lot of this has been studies in comparative study in comparative politics where the basic premise is that in racially homogenous nations there’s much more robust welfare systems, typically, than in heterogeneous states like the US, and so my line of argument might sound pretty familiar to comparativists, but I can see how it can push back against the conventional wisdom.

Basically, there’s clearly the cases like California or New York, but I make the case that on average, diversity has resulted in people moving away from wanting government to do more. Even if we consider some of these states, like California and New York, that are fairly liberal those are also the most unequal states in the country, so one could argue that why aren’t these states even more liberal than they actually are now?

Matt Grossmann: Wager started her research following on prior work showing a negative relationship between diversity and economic liberalism.

Emily Wager: A couple years ago I took a time series course with my advisor, Jim Stinson, at UNC and for my seminar paper I decided I wanted to do an extension of a 2010 paper that puts forth this idea that inequality in the US begets conservatism in the public, so in a way they describe as self-reinforcing. There’s been some critiques of their paper, the methods they’ve used and so forth, but it doesn’t change the undeniable fact that there are huge economic disparities in the U.S., and Americans by in large don’t want government to intervene.

I had wanted to extend the paper, I wanted to ask if we extend this series past the financial crisis do we still find the same relationship? If we look at specific policies, welfare versus taxation, do we see a different relationship? Then, I became more interested not necessarily in the idea that inequality results in more conservatism, but why it does, and that’s the basis I’m interested in, the why as opposed to what we actually see.

Matt Grossmann: Goldberg is trying to fill in the other side, understanding liberal attitudes. He says we focused mainly on an anticipated anti-diversity backlash associated with Trump.

Zack Goldberg: When Trump got elected there was a lot of interest in understanding how could this happen? There must be something going on in the minds of the people, obviously, that voted for Trump. Obviously, it makes sense to focus a lot of the attention on understanding the psychology of Trump voters, and that is definitely an important … I’m not, obviously, demeaning that research, or belittling it. I think it is important research, but it has created, I guess, a blind spot in the sense that well, that’s only one part of the equation. What might have Trump voters been reacting or responding to? Also, are the attitudes of Trump voters, are they that dissimilar from the attitudes of earlier generations of conservative voters or Republican voters?

What I found was that there’s really not that much movement, that there’s really not that much … obviously, in immigration maybe there was an increase in the percent that wanted to decrease illegal immigration, but you don’t find these drastic shifts, or at least of the magnitude that you see with the liberals among Trump voters in terms of racial resentment and even in terms of, I guess … I hate some of these measures, I’m very critical of them, but even modern sexism you don’t find these drastic increases among Trump voters, but what you do see is these drastic increases in the other direction among liberal voters. I began this, really compiling all this data, with my observation that there has been a record increase in percent of white liberals that are supportive of increasing immigration.

When I turned to the literature to try to figure out what predicts … we know so much. Don’t quote me on it, but I feel like not even 95 percent of the literature on immigration attitudes focuses on opposition. There seems to be a pro-immigration bias in the political science literature. Meaning it’s almost like pro-immigration sentiment is taken for granted, and opposition is treated as abnormal. When in fact, if you look around the world, opposition to immigration is really the norm whereas attitudes that call for increasing immigration are fairly exceptional, and we don’t really have that much research on that front that explains why this is the case.

The little literature that we have available is very, I guess, it’s kind of a-theoretical…it’s more correlational. Meaning that higher education correlates more positive attitudes towards immigrants, greater cosmopolitanism, but there’s really no development of a theory that could really explain how some of these variables relate to wanting to increase immigration.

Zack Goldberg: This is what also interests me is what separates somebody that just wants to keep immigration levels where they’re at? Where they’re at, since 2000, has been around 1 million immigrants a year, which is a large increase, which has led to large demographic shifts. The question is what distinguishes people that just want to keep immigration levels where they are, where it’s really just 1 million on average per year from those that want to increase it even further. Or not even increase them a little, but increase them a lot?

Matt Grossmann: Let’s dig into each project. Goldberg finds that white liberals have moved so far that they now like minority groups more than whites.

Zack Goldberg: For the first time have a pro-minority bias, meaning they are more likely to rate other minority groups, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims more warmly than they do their white in group. That disparity emerged in 2016 and it has grown since. It was around on average a 3 to 4 point disparity in favor of minorities in 2016, and if you look at other recent surveys, there’s one in Pew and then there’s also another in the ANES Pilot survey, this has grown. In the ANES Pilot survey it’s grown to somewhere, among white liberals, to 15 degree separation. It’s not just that there’s a relative disparity, meaning white liberals they do feel more warmly towards minorities, but they also feel more warm towards … but they also still have warm feelings towards whites. You also find that a sizable minority …

You also find that a sizable minority of a white liberals, somewhere around 26 percent, express open negativity or open unfavorable feelings towards whites.

Matt Grossmann: He thinks this builds on differences in liberal and conservative personality traits and their sensitivity to justice violations.

Zack Goldberg: People naturally differ in the extent that they are sensitive towards injustice in the world. People that tend to be higher on justice sensitivity, they tend to ruminate more frequently on injustice, they tend to have a much lower threshold of what counts for injustice, and they are very sensitive to harm being done to other people. And obviously I’m simplifying it because there are different dimensions within justice sensitivity. There’s observer sensitivity, which means being a witness to injustice. There’s perpetrator sensitivity, where one feels that they are responsible for potentially the harm caused to other parties. But I guess the central point here is that there are individual differences in sensitivity to these certain moral violations, and that liberals say all these traits tend to correlate with higher liberalism as well.

If liberals are more sensitive to these injustices and we are entering socially a digital media environment in which moral injustices tend to really captivate audiences (they draw a lot of retweets, they draw a lot of likes), obviously the algorithms are there to point you towards similar content in the future. We are at the point where these moral emotions, which were maybe less active in previous decades are now interfacing with a new media context which is arousing them and eliciting them a lot more frequently and generating really strong moral emotions.

Matt Grossmann: Collective moral emotions activated by specific injustices can spill over into lots of other attitudes.

Zack Goldberg: Collective guilt, collective shame, in group-directed anger, and these are all emotions that stem or are responsive to, well, I guess in this case, the perception that one is enjoying an illegitimate advantage, illegitimate economic, social advantage, that one is benefiting from the historical wrongdoings that were perpetrated against another group or party. Not everybody gets to that awareness. There tends to be a lot of motivated reasoning, which is why not everybody feels guilt because there’s usually tactics, cognitive tactics that can that serve to rebut them. But liberals, given their predispositions, because they don’t have the just world bias that conservatives do and they’re less likely to view inequality as natural, guilt is definitely something that’s harder for them to avoid and it makes the realization or perception that they are privileged, illegitimately so, relative to other groups.

Guilt and shame that is activated from one historical wrongdoing can manifest in sympathy towards those that are perceived to be similarly situated, similarly disadvantaged, maybe not to the same degree, but also weaker or perceived to be oppressed groups. And just to give you an example, there’s one paper found that shame and guilt over the British abuse of Iraqi prisoners during the second Gulf War, that corresponded to greater sympathy and greater positivity towards local Pakistani immigrants. And we find the same thing in Germany, where guilt over Germany’s treatment and persecution of the Jews, those that tend to feel these higher feelings of guilt also show greater openness and greater warmth and positivity towards ethnic Turks that reside in Germany.

Matt Grossmann: He looks at Google Search and media data, which both show a big spike in woke social justice concerns.

Zack Goldberg: I began with a just simple searches on Google trends for some of the, I guess not just woke-related vocabulary, such as white privilege and people of color, for instance, but also just even racism or discrimination. And I ran a number of analyses on Google trends and you find that you see a lot of greater search interest in a lot of these terms not during the 2016 or even 2015 presidential campaign race, but beginning around in 2012 and 2013, you see spikes in the interest for search terms for white privilege. Even, “How can I be a better ally?” shows increased interest. And some have commented that, “Okay, well, maybe this is really just the campus reform conservatives for example, just wanting to hate on the libs and they’re looking up all these terms.” I actually found that the search interest actually correlates with blue states and the proportion of liberals in a population.

So I don’t think all of this is being explained by conservatives just curious or wanting to material on which they could hate on the libs. I think a lot of this is also genuine interest on the part of liberals in some of this terminology and these topics. And what I also find is that during the same period of time, and by the same period of time, I’m referring to the period between 2011 and I guess 2015, you also find in the New York Times, although the major spikes come obviously during the 2016 campaign and the Trump presidency, you do find even before that, during even 2012, 2013, you do start seeing increased percentage of New York Times articles that are referring to race-related topics that are referring to racism, racist, racial inequality.

You see greater mentions of bigotry, for example, topics related to white bigotry, oppression, social justice, even slavery, which you think slavery is not a new topic, it’s been a part of our history. Even the mentions of slavery have really shot up in the New York Times over the past few years as has white supremacy. Even the mentions of the word privilege have gone up. And for some of these terms, and granted, it’s probably qualified that I haven’t checked every single term, but you do find a close correspondence between the percentage of New York Times articles that are mentioning these terms and Google search interest in these terms.

Matt Grossmann: Through a mix of social and mainstream media, viral injustices like police shootings can now spread quickly and raise concern.

Zack Goldberg: In the era of digital media, the lines, the boundaries between the producers and the purveyors of media and the consumers, they’re becoming increasingly blurred. Especially if you’re … Social media, for example, a lot of content that gets picked up now in the mainstream news stems or emanates from social media. If you have social media, especially not only just social media, but everybody having a camera in their pocket, now if I’m out in public and I feel like I’m being mistreated or I’m being expelled from a local town pool and I think this is because I’m black, well, I can record the incident. I could send that to YouTube. That will be tweeted out. That will get a lot of retweets.

Because a lot of research by Jay Van Bavel has shown that moral wrongdoing, moral injustices tend to really captivate audiences and this really generates a lot of retweets. And once things go viral, the mainstream media, the newspapers like the New York Times are going to pick up on it. And obviously the video didn’t begin with the New York Times, it began with just the public. So, I guess the roles here, the traditional uni-directional, the media sets the agenda and they provide the content, is becoming weaker in the digital era, where now we have, I guess if you want to call them citizen journalists or just members of the public that decide tweet things that go viral, you now also see the public also in agenda setting role.

Matt Grossmann: Wagar says it’s possible more empathy could be leading white liberals to change attitudes, but she’s not sure if it will actually change their behavior when it comes to core economic issues.

Emily Wager: The theory of pay it forward is that the connection between, diversity and policy preferences is empathy. So, if whites, white liberals specifically, are gaining more empathy for racial minorities, the plights of racial minorities are becoming more clear, then maybe there will be more empathy. I’m not quite sure if it’s just a reaction to the Trump policies that’s creating this kind of push back, but I’d be interested to see how far white liberals will go in terms of redistributive policies, specifically we’re finally talking about reparations for slavery and that sort of thing. And whites may say yes to that in a survey, but I’d be interested to know if they really will support it down the line when those policies actually may become more tangible.

Matt Grossmann: She says people don’t usually like to share with others, not like themselves.

Emily Wager: Social identities will shape people’s preferences on who gets what. So in-group members are more likely to support policies when they share a social identity with the perceived beneficiary. And this is because people often perceive their in-group members as more similar to themselves than out-group members. And they’ll feel closer, more connected to them, tend to feel greater empathy and responsibility towards them. And so, if we think about salient social identities in the U.S., there’s nothing more salient than race, arguably. And so, I make the argument when people … Americans know that we’re becoming increasingly racially diverse and we’re not the majority white country that we were, at least how we were decades ago, when the New Deal was passed in the early 1930s, the country was about 90% white. And when LBJ’s Great Society was implemented in the mid-60s, the country was about 87% white. And now we’re about 75% white, about 60% non-Hispanic white. So there’s been a huge shift and I think that because of this increase in diversity there is this lack of empathy that we have towards other citizens and this affects how we think government should help others.

Matt Grossmann: She’s able to take advantage of annual public opinion data and relate them to changes in diversity and inequality in the states.

Emily Wager: The idea that race is a big factor in American’s redistributive preferences isn’t necessarily novel, but sometimes it’s difficult to get a causation with it. And a lot of the trouble with this is typically this finding relies on kind of cross-sectional evidence. So I wanted to look at things how they’ve changed over time, so I used a time series model, a dynamic analysis, and I looked at annual public opinion for every state in the U.S. for almost five decades, for every year. And public opinion estimates I used were economic liberaL estimates that were basically an aggregation of opinions over a variety of items related to the economy. so taxes, social welfare, and labor regulation. So very similar to Stimson’s mood, just dis-aggregated by state and just in the economic domain.

And so in these models I looked at how the interaction between racial diversity and income inequality affected public liberalism, while also controlling for things that also might matter. The size of the population, the average income, unemployment rate, and so forth. And then I try to supplement my findings because they do rely on aggregated data, with some individual data getting at my theorized mechanism, which is that when states are more diverse, people are less likely to see other people in the state as people like themselves. And so that’s what I find just using a national survey from 2002.

Matt Grossmann: Income inequality and diversity are of course both increasing nationally, but they vary a lot by state.

Emily Wager: Income inequality has been rising since the 1970s where the larger share of income is concentrated at the very top 1% or top 0.1%, but this kind of varies by where you’re at. So the average person in the top 1% makes about 13 times more than the 99% in Maine. However, if you move to New York, for example, the average person in the top 1% makes 45 five times more than the other 99%. And then racial diversity vary significantly as well. On average, some states are declined in their non-white population faster than others, but there’s states like Maine, West Virginia, Vermont, that are about 95% white and have kind of remained that way for decades. While there’s other states Georgia, and Maryland, and so forth that kind of hover around the 60% white.

Matt Grossmann: She’s also looked more specifically at welfare and education spending, finding diversity inhibits liberal responses to inequality on both, but more for welfare.

Emily Wager: The economic public liberalism is a measure that basically aggregates people’s opinions on a variety of economic issues. I wanted to see, “Hey, does the finding hold up if we look at specific policies?” I basically estimated the same models as I did with economic public liberalism, but using support for welfare spending and education spending. The time series for these were coming considerably shorter. I think they were about 20 years. We again see the same general trend. In diverse states, the public response to inequality with preferences for less welfare and less [inaudible 00:29:13] welfare is to some extent a lot more racialized than education has been. Yes, the relationship is a lot stronger for welfare.

Matt Grossmann: Although people are bad at estimating diversity, Wager says they do notice its increase.

Emily Wager: There’s been a couple of studies that have come out that say, “Hey, when racial diversity changes people pick up on it.” Maybe they don’t pick up on the magnitude accurately. This is where dynamic analysis kind of comes into play. People might not know, right now, what percentage of the population is white in their state, but they may know if it’s larger today than it was 20 years ago. Another avenue for future research is looking at what units of analysis or what levels of analysis are most important for people’s attitudes. Is it their metro area, the neighborhood, zip code state, or do they maybe all kinds of matter in different ways?

Matt Grossmann: When they do, they identify less with people in their state.

Emily Wager: In my paper I point to several studies that indicate that people are aware of shifts in levels of inequality and racial diversity in their environment. I wanted to demonstrate that variations in racial diversity can significantly shape how individual’s perception of other residents, how they perceive those residents as people like themselves. Maybe more importantly to see if this was consistent across races. I relied on a 2002 national survey actually that Elizabeth Tice Morris had used in her book on national belonging. It was really useful because she asked respondents how strongly do you feel a part of or identify with people from your state? I found that when states are more racially diverse, state residents are less likely to feel like they’re a part of the people in their state and controlling for a whole host of individual and in state level factors. Also when we dis-aggregate this by race, whites in particular are the most susceptible to a growing non white population. When the non white population is higher, whites are less likely to identify with the people in their state.

Matt Grossmann: It’s not just the diverse south but a nationwide pattern.

Emily Wager: In my models, I run dummies for the south or fixed effects by state. We still see the same relationship that the interaction between diversity and inequality significantly shapes public liberalism. Hopefully, that can mitigate people’s concerns somewhat, but I understand it.

Matt Grossmann: Wager says the European story suggest strong welfare states might be tied to homogeneity.

Emily Wager: The European story is interesting because throughout the 2016 presidential primaries we heard Bernie relentlessly say, “Look at countries like Sweden, Denmark. These have strong social welfare programs.” Since then, you’ve witnessed backlashes in those countries from residents due to the influx of immigrants. We kind of see the same thing in those countries that we’ve seen in others.

Matt Grossmann: Where do we go from here? Goldberg is looking at the relationship between increasing racism perceptions and media use and comparing them to self perceptions of discrimination by minorities. He finds that liberals might be overshooting as conservatives are undershooting.

Zack Goldberg: The relationship between social media use, and not just social media, it’s even those that report regularly reading the New York Times or regularly reading the Huffington Post, the relationship between digital media consumption or even political social media consumption and higher perceptions, greater perceptions of discrimination or discriminatory treatment against various social groups. One example that I mentioned in my tablet piece was the Pew 2016 Racial Attitudes Survey where if you create a variable that codes respondents by the extent that they engaged with race-related social media, how frequently they’re exposed to it or what proportion of the content they’re exposed to relate to racial issues. You find that naturally those exposed to more higher rates of racial content perceive more discrimination. You also find a relationship not just with the more specific race related content exposure, but you also find that those that use Twitter or Instagram you do you see that.

There was one survey, I think it was Associated Press survey, I tweeted a graph of it, showing that Twitter users or Instagram users they perceive that there’s been increases in discrimination in the previous 12 months against various social groups. Not just that there’s greater discrimination, because the typical measures that I’m speaking of they ask you on a four point scale. How much discrimination is there against this group? Are they discriminated not at all? Is there’s this there a great deal or a lot? Find the relationship with social media and digital media use with that, but you also find it if I were to ask you how much has it increased? Has there been any increases in the past 12 months? You also find a relationship between a digital media use and reporting that there have been increases in discrimination against Muslims, against blacks, even in some cases, I mean, although a lower proportion, but also against even Jews.

The tricky part is really trying to assess accuracy. To what extent do these perceptions, are they mapping onto the social reality? This is not an easy question to answer. How do we construct a objective measure of personally experienced discrimination? The measures that I have that I’ve looked at are more comprehensive than some of the measures that the ANES fields in the sense that it asks, for example, how frequently do people act like they were afraid of you? How often do you receive poorer service than other people at restaurants? How often, frequently are you followed in stores? How frequently are you mistreated by the police?

What you find is that the mean responses among blacks, I guess in the most recent survey that we have this data, is from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth or 2012 and 2014 waves. You find that the mean responses tend towards hardly ever or I guess earlier survey they coded it according to less than once a year. There very, very rarely are the incidents experienced at the individual level. Now it’s just tricky to really assess accuracy because liberals have a very, I guess, a broader conception of discrimination. May not necessarily just refer to interpersonal discrimination but also structural discrimination as well.

This really makes it hard to really assess accuracy. There has been some research, not on race, but on terms of social mobility, which found that liberals tend to understate the extent of social mobility whereas conservatives tend to overstate it. I think my theory is that liberals are definitely more Type I error-prone on this count. Meaning they obviously view very insensitive toward injustices they’re more likely to over-perceive, whereas conservatives may be more likely to under-perceive.

Matt Grossmann: Wager’s next step is to look more closely at two very white states with different politics, Vermont and West Virginia, and a diverse state like South Carolina.

Emily Wager: I’m doing a couple of case studies in my dissertation, one on West Virginia and one on Vermont, and then one in South Carolina. The West Virginia and Vermont case studies are hopefully comparable cases where these are majorly white states and their politics are very different, kind of understanding what state level factors might influence the direction of politics there. I also look at a very diverse state like South Carolina. In my home district, Charleston, South Carolina, Joe Cunningham was elected in 2016. He was the first Democrat to be elected in that district since I think 1980. That wouldn’t fit in our conventional wisdom, given that South Carolina is pretty diverse and it’s been increasingly non-white. That’s another case study that I wanted to look at.

Then, I mean, there’s a lot of other projects I have for this dissertation. One, is a lot of researchers are talking about public opinion towards inequality, how people see inequality, and how they respond to it. We really don’t really quite have an in- depth understanding of what people see when they see inequality. We use these measures like the Gini Coefficient or top one percent income share. We think they matter for people’s perceptions, but I really want to understand more about what people see when they see inequality. There are surveys that indicate that people see that it’s been rising over time. Part of my research involves going out and talking to people. In these case studies, I do focus groups and in-depth interviews and try to really do an in depth look at what people are really talking about when they’re talking about inequality and policies that address inequality.

My last kind of thing that I’d like to look at is mostly we know when we’re talking about public opinion towards redistributions, it’s largely focused on whites’ attitudes. There’s a 2015 paper that finds that blacks have been increasingly opposed to government redistribution as well as whites. Part of my interviews and focus groups looks at African Americans as well and their attitudes towards redistribution.

Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center. I’m your host, Matt Grossman. Thanks to Zach Goldberg and Emily Wager for joining me. Please check out “America’s White Saviors” and “People Like Us” and then listen in next time.

Photo credit: Lorie Shaull from Washington, United States [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]