The impact of racial attitudes in American politics isn’t just about the presence or absence of anti-Black prejudice. Some White Americans say they are highly sympathetic to the plight of Black Americans. Are they just placing Black Lives Matter signs in their yards or does it translate into political views and actions? Jennifer Chudy finds that many White Americans, especially liberal Democrats, have sympathy that translates into support for redistributive social welfare policies and opposition to punitive criminal justice policies. There is a growing and important left side of Americans’ racial views.

Guest: Jennifer Chudy, Wellesley College
Studies: Some White Folks


Matt Grossmann: White racial sympathy, this week on the Science of Politics. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann. Prejudice and racial resentment have long been recognized as core drivers of American political behavior, but what about the left side of Americans’ racial attitudes? Some white people are highly sympathetic to the plight of black Americans. They publicly express their affiliation with Black Lives Matter and commit themselves to reckoning with their privilege.

How sincerely should we take their pronouncements? And does it translate into support for racially-targeted public policies or actions? This week I talked to Jennifer Chudy of Wellesley College about her new Chicago book, Some White Folks. She finds that many white Americans, especially liberal democrats, do have sympathy for black Americans that translates into support for redistributive social welfare policies and opposition to punitive criminal justice policies, especially with salient impacts on black Americans.

She also finds that sympathy drives some political behavior, such as activists’ involvement in Black Lives Matter protests, often because of personal connections to stories of suffering. The impact of racial attitudes in American politics isn’t just about the presence or absence of anti-black racial animus. Chudy’s work is part of a flowering of scholarship on our multidimensional positive and negative racial attitudes. Today we explore another side. So tell us about the main findings from Some White Folks.

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah, so I’ll start with the title, Some White Folks, because I think it helps situate the project. This is a quote taken from Obama. And during his presidency he was asked to reflect how his race impact his candidacy. And he said, “Well, I just want to acknowledge that there were some people who disliked me because of my race, but there were also some black folks and some white folks who really liked me and gave me the benefit of the doubt because of my race.”

And so the central topic of the book is precisely these, Some White Folks. These are white people who support political efforts, candidates, policies, social movements that are perceived to advance black interests. And the psychology behind this, which is a racial attitude that I call racial sympathy. Racial sympathy, I find in the book, is associated with a wide range of public opinions. Support for public opinion on policies that advance black interests. So policies like affirmative action, redistribution, reparations, also reforms to the criminal justice system.

And so I suggest that it represents a really important part of some white Americans’ racial attitudes, and it’s one that’s distinct from low or the absence of prejudice in forms like racial resentment or stereotypes. So the main part of the book is looking at the relationship between sympathy and public opinion, but in the later part of the book I also consider the relationship between sympathy and political behaviors. Thinking about some of the activity we saw in the summer of 2020, is there a relationship between racial sympathy and protest in support of Black Lives Matter or volunteering for black candidates or causes?

And here I find the relationship between sympathy and the behavior outcomes is a little less consistent than it was for the opinion outcomes, for reasons I discuss in the book’s final chapters. So this is supposed to be a companion to our racial attitudes literature. It doesn’t deny the importance of prejudice, but rather suggests that whites’ racial attitudes may be more than just prejudice. And if we think race constitutes an important part of our politics moving forward, studying race in America among white people should be done with a consideration of racial sympathy.

Matt Grossmann: So give us an example or two of some of these survey questions that you would ask me and conclude that I either did or didn’t have a lot of racial sympathy. And give us some intuition about why you think my answer to that would represent my real attitude.

Jennifer Chudy: Sure. So like many other public opinion scholars, my primary tool is a survey question. And in this case the survey question I present to self-identified white respondents is actually a little story, a little vignette that depicts an instance of a black person or a group of black people facing some discrimination, facing suffering. And I ask the respondent to indicate how much sympathy they feel towards the person in the vignette or the people in the vignette. And the answer ranges go from, “I feel a lot of sympathy for this person,” down to, “I do not feel any sympathy for this person.”

And it is an additive index of four little stories. And I decided on this approach based on… well, for a few reasons. One is there is a precedent for studying an attitude like sympathy in this way. There was an old article in the ’60s by Schumann in which he was trying to understand sympathetic identification with the underdog. And he showed his respondents these stories, like I did, and asked respondents how sympathetic they felt towards the people in the stories.

But this approach is also based on some qualitative research I did through listening to white people talk about race. And they often were referencing salient stories, memorable incidents or people that brought their attention to black suffering and elicited an emotional reaction. And so, after I listened to how white people were talking about black suffering and their feelings towards it, it seemed like this idea of a story was really central to it. And so I wanted that to be part of the measurement. I should say that the ANES and the GSS has fielded, on at least three occasions, I know about a measure of sympathy. It’s just a single item. It’s, how often do you have sympathy for blacks? Now, if that sounds weird to your ears, I should say that question was designed to measure prejudice.

It wasn’t really intended to measure sympathy, but I consider it a functional and serviceable approximation of sympathy. So throughout the book I try to replicate a lot of my findings using that single item ANES measure to show that my findings are robust to the specification of sympathy. And to your second point, it’s very reasonable to worry that white people are just behaving in a socially desirable way when they see this, and they know the right answer to these items.

And the people on the podcast didn’t see my air quotes when I said, “The right answer.” But social desirability is obviously a concern for folks who study sensitive topics, and I try to account for that in a few ways. I use the self-monitoring index to see if my results change when I take into account that some people really self-monitor when they take surveys. And I find that my results are mostly unchanged. I also should note that, on occasions, these sympathy items have brought up substantial numbers of white people who report they don’t have sympathy for the people in the little story. So I take that seriously.

I think they’re telling me the truth. They’re in these anonymous internet settings. And we know they often have no issue being honest on the prejudice items. And so, similarly, I find that there are white Americans who are not sympathetic. And so for these reasons, I think the measure approximates what I would consider a real attitude. But of course I can’t be entirely sure that some people aren’t modifying their behavior. But I think if they are, it’s in a negligible way.

Matt Grossmann: So you predict whether people have these sympathetic attitudes and find that there are some demographic associations, but the biggest ones are with partisanship and ideology. Liberal democrats are the most sympathetic. So what should we make of that?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah. At this point there’s been lots of research that suggests that ideology and partisanship among white people is tied up in their views about race, so it wasn’t surprising for me to find that many of some white folks that I study are Democrats and are liberal. And I wanted to examine the other demographics like education, like income, like gender, because I think there’s a popular narrative that these people are affluent, young, coastal, highly-educated elites with BLM stickers on their MacBooks, and that they’re really just concentrated in that segment of the population.

But what I find is that there’s actually a little bit more diversity than that narrative suggests. It is the case that higher levels of racial sympathy are associated with higher levels of education and higher income, but the result is not as pronounced as these narratives would have us believe. But rather we have young folks, folks who didn’t go through higher ed, folks who aren’t high income earners who are highly racially sympathetic, at least according to my measures. So demographics now are an important part of our politics generally, and so that comes through here, but it’s not as limited as I think popular narratives or depictions of this group have put forward.

Matt Grossmann: So you also then relate this sympathy to some policy public opinion, including both redistributive social welfare policies that are targeted at African-Americans and more punitive criminal justice policies. So is it just basically, sympathy predicts policies that have more positive potential outcomes for African-Americans? Or is there something separating those two pieces in your mind?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah. I was really guided by the Theory of Group Centrism. That was a central argument of Converse and very much influenced by the 1996 Nelson and Kinder paper on the topic that a policy that features a group is likely informed by attitudes towards that group. So there are distinctions, to be sure, between redistributive and criminal justice policies. One distinction I talk about in the book is this first face of the state versus the second face of the state. And it’s also, even though I frame the argument as higher levels of racial sympathy are associated with a more generous state, I also want to suggest sometimes the distribution of those state resources has problems and can be paternalistic. But I think, because the target is still black Americans in both the case of redistributive policies and criminal justice policies, I expected the psychology to work similarly because of the Theory of Group Centrism.

Matt Grossmann: And then you’re able to vary whether the policy is targeted at black Americans or not, but don’t we still face the… and so you’re able to show that it’s specific to these policies that affect black Americans. But couldn’t it still be the case that it’s actually the policy views that are driving the sympathy rather than the reverse?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah, that’s certainly possible. I would return to my measurement of sympathy, which feels-

Jennifer Chudy: Return to my measurement of sympathy, which feels is very apolitical. It’s about these little stories of black people facing suffering in everyday scenarios. And I would argue that the psychology of this, that comes first, that’s most salient to the folks who take my survey based on the way I heard them talk about race. It seems like these stories, these incidents of black suffering were most pronounced. And then, downstream from that, was this idea that government ought to do something about it. So again, I think that’s consistent with how group centrist, people who, not group centrist, people who study group centrism would suggest that the process plays out.

Matt Grossmann: So you also interview racial justice activists about how their racial sympathy might influence their social movement activity. And you find that they even respond to either a personal tie sometimes, or to kind of famous examples. So how should we think about those processes and kind of driving sympathy, the fact that people are often leaning on someone that they know, or some specific case that they’ve heard about in the media?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah, that was a really interesting finding. In many ways, it confirmed what I had heard years earlier when I did the initial listening tour for the measure. I mean, I think one aspect of that is the emotional connection can be very potent when this is a story based on someone you know, or in some cases, the people I interviewed, their spouses were black, they consider their children to be black. These were intimate connections that some of these white people had to black Americans, and that can really heighten the affective dimension of sympathy. Sympathy is the distress. And so that can really elevate the distress. But what it can also do is take it a little far from the political realm and from political methods or efforts to address that distress.

So one interesting thing I found in my interviews was I would say the vast majority of the white people I spoke with would all have indicated on surveys they supported affirmative action, they supported reparations. I think they would’ve been off the charts on all those items. But when I talked to them, politics was not really on their mind very much, or if it was on their mind, they were very cynical about it or indifferent about it. And so that gave me some pause because, to that point, I had just established this story. It’s a huge part of how these white people go about their politics. And in terms of what they do with those attitudes, the fact that they are derived from personal stories or personal histories that these folks find compelling may limit the extent to which they see this as something that requires a political response.

Matt Grossmann: So you went back and forth here between the interviews and more open-ended discussion of this to trying to codify in the survey question. But obviously there were differences, as you said, you kind of focused on the people who would’ve been highest in your measure and who were most involved. So what do you think about the role that these two things are playing in your analysis? What do you learn from the interview piece that’s distinct?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah. One thing I talk about is how interviews contain a lot of metadata or metadata. Watching how long it takes for someone to answer a question, watching how their face responds to a question. That’s something that I wouldn’t have been able to see in my surveys. Also, the way I conducted my interviews was iterative. I had a script, but if the conversation went one way, I would go and follow it. And that’s very difficult to do in surveys. So I asked about what people perceived the role of government to be, and seeing like a dismissive smirk or how their facial expression would match their answer was really illuminating. And I’m not a qualitative methodologist. I use these tools to improve and to inform my survey analysis, but I think they brought attention to aspects of this psychology that I wouldn’t have seen if I had just studied these people through large end samples.

Matt Grossmann: So you differentiate racial sympathy as being about attitudes toward black Americans specifically, but you sometimes use analogies to possibilities of gender attitudes or to previous questions that asked about sympathy for the poor. So how widely is this kind of group sympathy applicable, and when would it be associated with broader views versus very specific to this racial dynamic?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah. This question of basically discriminant validity is very important. I mean, especially because I find that people who are strong Democrats and very liberal are also racially sympathetic. Well, we know that the Democratic Party has policies and associations with many marginalized groups. So it’s important to interrogate the extent to which this is really based on the white-black relationship. I expect and find that there are relationships between sympathy towards black Americans and sympathy towards other marginalized groups. And one thing I note at the end of the book is that the strength of this may actually be intensifying in our current political climate, but I would argue that the psychology of how that sympathy gets formed is distinct in ways that has consequences for politics.

Sympathy of the poor is something that’s been explored in books, movies, popular culture for centuries. And Americans have a very specific idea of who the poor are, who the deserving poor are. And so, as a consequence, sympathy for poor in politics functions in a distinct way then the black experience, which has been characterized in white media in a very different way than the poor have been characterized. And so, I think the group is very important. The unique history related to the group is very important. And it’s not kind of broadly interchangeable, but if researchers were interested in studying sympathy towards Latinos or sympathy towards trans folks, that requires dedicated measurement that reflects the history of that group in popular understanding.

Matt Grossmann: And is it inherently for a set of groups where we think that there is a social hierarchy that people are recognizing that they would be above the group that they have sympathy for? Or is this just a broader, I could have sympathy for anyone in any situation?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah, I mean, that’s a very interesting question. I think there is, the way I study it, this very clear hierarchy, racial hierarchy that informs how white sympathy towards black Americans manifests. Insofar as like, let’s see, could you have sympathy for a higher-status group? I suppose it’s certainly possible, but I don’t know if it would have consequences on your politics as much. Insofar as that group is higher status it’s unclear kind of what additional government support or assistance they would need. So it could exist, but it might not be politically potent. If politics is about who gets what, then presumably higher-status groups have more of the what.

Matt Grossmann: So you find that racial sympathy is distinct from just having low prejudice or scoring low on the racial resentment scale. But obviously, there’s some relationship. People who are prejudiced or racially resentful are less likely to score high on your measure. And there has been some real change in these measures in recent years, especially at that end of the scale where Democrats and Liberals are moving toward the lower end of those scales. So should we change our view of those findings in light of your own findings, or how are you thinking about this, the racial sympathy related to these changes in what’s going on, especially with Democrats and Liberals at the lower end of these prejudice and resentment scales?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah, I’ve really enjoyed reading that work, and I find a lot of it very convincing. I also find it substantively different than what I do by using those low ends. Researchers who do that preclude the possibility that people could have high levels of sympathy and prejudice at the same time, which is something I tried to suggest in the book. I wish I had a panel to track people’s sympathy throughout time. I have one panel taken around the 2020 election that suggests that sympathy is pretty stable throughout the fall into the early months of 2021. But on the other hand, the cross-sectional data I have, obviously taken on different samples, suggest that the level of sympathy ticks up as I take data, as I take these surveys from 2013 into the present. So I think what I would suggest is it might not be as much about attitudinal change.

I argue that racial sympathy is formed through pre-adult socialization experiences, kind of following the racial attitudes literature. But just that these resentful white Americans have shifted out of the Republican Party, sorry, out of the Democratic Party leaving the folks that remain united basically by these progressive racial values. And so I think that there used to be this sense for white Democrats, you don’t want to talk about race. You don’t want to turn off the white folks who carry these prejudiced or resentful attitudes. And I think that still might be the case to an extent, but certainly not as it was 10 or 15 years ago. And that white Democrats or Democrats generally could talk about race, and it would be received in different ways than it had been in the past.

Matt Grossmann: So beyond just the change, though, there’s been kind of, I don’t know if it’s controversy or just people changing their views on, we sort of used to assume that a neutral, what is a neutral view toward African-Americans? It used to be kind of presumed that neutral would be at the zero end of the racial resentment scale or the prejudice scales. But there are people who rate blacks higher than whites on the feeling thermometer, for example. And so some people have tried to kind of reconceptualize what would be a neutral attitude. So anything that you’re doing that would inform that debate-

Matt Grossmann: Anything that you’re doing that would inform that debate?

Jennifer Chudy: No, I mean, in the book I do look at are these white people who feel close to white people? I try to look at the relationship between racial sympathy and ingroup attitudes influenced by all the research we have now about how ingroup attitudes could be very important for white people. And I don’t find that some white folks hate white people. They don’t want to be white people. It’s not like a Rachel Dolezal situation here. They carry this sympathy alongside a positive orientation towards their group, whether or not relative to Black Americans, I think they tend to rate their group higher. So it’s not done with a sense of racial distancing or anything like that. But I haven’t broken apart the scales in those ways to examine.

I mean, I will say, if you go back to the language in Divided by Color, which was such an influential book for me, they talk about the neutral point of racial resentment being 0.5, being if it starts at zero, everyone’s racially liberal and one everyone’s racially resentful. They say 0.5 is the neutral point in that scale. And so it’s been interesting to see how the interpretation of what’s neutral, what’s sympathetic, what’s liberal, has shifted over time for a measure that was originally developed to represent resentment or prejudice.

Matt Grossmann: So popular interest in related ideas was very high after the 2008 election as people were trying to explain how we elected our first Black president. But you find that no real effect on turnout from the Obama era and aren’t really looking at vote choice effects. So given what we know now, how much should we make of this claim that you said Obama sort of makes himself, that he was helped by some whites racial attitudes?

Jennifer Chudy: I think some of this is related to the unique variable that is vote choice and vote turnout, which participation scholars have said for a long time, this is a totally, totally distinct outcome. And so it is the case that I don’t find that higher levels of racial sympathy, at least as represented by that single ANES item, I don’t have data using my measure because my measure came around after Obama was elected. But that has a positive but non-significant relationship with turnout and with vote choice, it is also a more modest relationship.

But again, I think that speaks more to the uniqueness of what drives people to vote is such a distinct psychology compared to what drives people to volunteer, to participate in politics, to wear Obama pins. And for all those outcomes, I do find a significant relationship between higher levels of racial sympathy and enthusiasm for Obama. And if you return to the Obama quote that inspires the book’s title, he talks about folks really liking him. And if we think about a feeling thermometer as an indication of liking, I do find higher levels of racial sympathy are associated with white people really, really liking Obama, especially in ’08.

And so I understand why we talk about the vote, and I want to acknowledge that the folks who study racial resentment do find this relationship between racial resentment and Obama vote choice. I find that inconsistently, but I think that doesn’t negate the ways in which this sympathy for Black Americans came through in white Americans other behavior during those elections and potentially in elections in the future as well.

Matt Grossmann: So you are a part of this rising generation of Michigan PhDs studying racial attitudes in new ways, and you acknowledge your ties to people studying white identity and respectability and other pieces of racial attitudes. So situate yourself within that group that you, I guess, came of age scholarly in and tell us if you think it adds up to a change in how we’re thinking about racial attitudes?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting about my grad school years and the climate that led to so many of us choosing research topics like white identity, like respectability. And I think the broader climate was one in which faculty modeled to us that race is important in American politics. And with that out of the way we could turn to specific iterations of race and American politics that we’re not just is there prejudice in politics and does it matter? It was an environment that if you wanted to study race, if you wanted to go down the rabbit hole of all of the psychology of race, there was a lot of encouragement.

And there was a sense among the grad students doing it that we were invested and interested in each other’s projects and would support each other during talks and things like that. Whether it represents a new direction, I think remains to be seen. But for a lot of the pieces I review and I see now, it seems to be that just talking about race as if it’s just white prejudice against Black people, that’s too simplistic a depiction of our political landscape these days. And so to the extent that these Michigan scholars are complicate that, I think it’s a positive direction and one that I hope to contribute to.

Matt Grossmann: And you don’t think this is inspired by the Obama era versus we’ve shifted back to more traditional prejudice importance under Trump?

Jennifer Chudy: Well, these things can certainly ebb and flow over time, but actually this goes back to something Hanes Walton, who was at Michigan told me that race will be perpetually important in American politics. White attitudes about Black people will be perpetually important. So even if in this moment it doesn’t seem as present perhaps as it did in 2020, I think there’s reason to suspect that it’ll be a topic to which people will return in the future.

Matt Grossmann: So after George Floyd’s killing in the summer of 2020, there was this outpouring of visible Black Lives Matter support among white communities, but to a lot of people since then, it has seemed that it was somewhat fleeting and potentially surface level. So how should we interpret that pattern in light of your findings? When should we expect sympathy to be enduring and important? And when should we expect it to be mainly about self presentation, even if it’s a real attitude and not necessarily translating into a real long-term change?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah, obviously parts of this book discuss 2020 and the shift to concentrating on behavior was very much inspired by what I saw in 2020. But I would suggest what we saw in 2020, the protests and the outpouring for Black Lives Matter among white people was not a demonstration of racial sympathy. Racial sympathy is not something that’s created in a moment but is rather something that exists in a white person through these pre-adult socialization forces for a long period. And it can be activated, it can be turned on when situations call attention to Black suffering, as was the case with George Floyd’s death. But I don’t think the broader public reaction among white people was an exhibition of racial sympathy, but maybe something more akin to what you are referencing, self presentation or something along those lines.

I mean I think 2020 was such an unusual moment, not to take our minds back there, but we were all stuck inside. We couldn’t do anything except watch television. And so you had this unusually attentive audience who was forced to see this outcome and an audience that in many cases did not have to go to work, could go out and protest. And so that might be a reason why it was fleeting, because it was really the circumstances around that were so unique to that situation that unless we find ourselves in those circumstances again, I would not expect to see something like that happen again.

As for what it takes for racial sympathy to be enduring, I discussed some of this at the end of the book. There is evidence that people follow the leader to reference Gabe Lenz’s book and that for sympathy to have a more permanent place in our dialogue, it’s possible that public officials, politicians have to bring it there and install it in a more durable way through policies, through centering their platforms around this. Otherwise, I would expect it to have more of a fleeting trajectory.

Matt Grossmann: And then just on the deepness part of it, again, I mean I think some people might just say you are studying things that would make people put in this house. We believe signs in front of their house. It might make them buy Robin DiAngelo books but are not necessarily going to change their political trajectory more than that. How do you think about that?

Jennifer Chudy: Certainly the chapter on behavior could lead to those conclusions, but the chapters on public opinion show that if you put a reparations referendum in front of these people, they’ll support it. They support affirmative action. They support limiting the power of the criminal justice system. So the question is how to bring those people to these political outcomes. And maybe that’s very complicated and it’s not something that my book addresses, but books about social movements or mobilization would be better equipped to address. But the book does suggest that that attitude is there. And the opinions that are collected or opinions that we take seriously as public opinion researchers. And so I think it’s a genuine attitude, but one that may need to be mobilized in very careful and thoughtful ways. If you want folks to move beyond the Robin DiAngelo books and onto the political stage,

Matt Grossmann: So we’re in the midst of another protest movement over Israel and Palestine and some people have seen somewhat analogous processes in which people develop sympathy on the basis of social media videos or-

Matt Grossmann: On the basis of social media videos or shared political experiences, to what extent does that make you think that some of these processes don’t necessarily rely on this long-term view of the difference between whites and blacks in the United States or personal ties, but there might just be more of a quicker path due to political organizing and social media?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah. Look, there’s lots of suffering in the world, and some people see it and are distressed and other people don’t. And so I think the psychology of that is probably similar. The cell phones and technology have made it so suffering can appear in front of us in a very undeniable and graphic way. So I think humans feel distressed over that and they want to do something about it. But I do think the politics are different. Maybe as you say that the distance is different. I know there’s been work on foreign aid and how paternalism can also factor into attitudes about when folks are suffering abroad, how Americans think about providing aid. And so I think turning to this idea of sympathy as being a potent force in politics is a powerful one. But I think, again, just the unique history of the Palestinian people or of Black Americans really shapes that sympathy and impacts expression in unique ways for different groups.

Matt Grossmann: One thing that you brought forward is that we need to study attitudes that are more associated with the liberal part of the racial attitudes dimension that might suggest that actually we’ve also understudied the conservative side of racial attitudes among non-white populations. Anything to that analogy?

Jennifer Chudy: Oh, yeah. Okay. So when you phrase it that way, I think this suggests that it is really fruitful to consider the multidimensionality of these attitudes among groups. Just as I would say, white people’s racial attitudes are not just prejudice. I would agree with the idea that people of colors, attitudes are not just linked fate or inner group solidarity, but may be informed by processes like respectability, as studied by my good friend Hakeem, or the ways in which inner group identity may function distinctly for these different non-white communities. I think that work is important. I think it just brings more complexity to our understanding of all the ways in which race is functioning in American elections these days.

Matt Grossmann: So I first heard a talk on things related to this book five years ago now, so I know this is a long time coming. So reflect a little bit on what this book would’ve looked like when published as dissertation work and how it’s evolved over time.

Jennifer Chudy: Watching 2020 really changed the trajectory of this book. The book was originally, okay, here’s racial sympathy. Here’s how I developed the measure. Here’s all these psychometric analyses of it, and here’s this relationship with public opinion. By the way, that was the standard of many initial works on racial prejudice. And so even though as I say that now, and it doesn’t feel like a lot, that felt very comprehensive at the time. But a few years into the project as I was watching 2020, my mind wandered to the relationship between sympathy and behavior. And it’s a relationship I’m still trying to think through, and I want to test it experimentally and I want to investigate the limits of it.

But the book became, I think, more complicated in a good way after with this edition. It wasn’t just, here’s an attitude that matters, and I measured an interesting way, but here’s an attitude, it matters. Here’s some limits of it. Here’s some avenues or occasions in which we may see its expression. And so it became a little bit more complicated, I think, in ways that may have stressed out at least one of my advisors. But I think in taking this turn, I also hopefully, I’m opening the door for other folks to study some of the unanswered questions that I posed at the end of the book about behavior. So I think, ultimately, it was a good one.

Matt Grossmann: So my previous question was a little bit, I guess negative about 2020, but another way of seeing your work is that we should expect moments like this to possibly come about in the future. Number one, we have a whole bunch of people in positions of power and foundations and in government that might be high in racial sympathy. We also have what you’ve described as a latent attitude that could be mobilized in certain circumstances. So what are the circumstances that you would expect us to get another moment like that?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah. So one possibility I discuss in the book is just the importance of efficacy, which is a concept that political scientists have thought about for decades. The sense that you can do something to affect a political outcome as being potentially very important for racial sympathy. Sympathy is often associated with the emotion of sadness. And when you’re sad, you usually don’t do anything. Or your action is you go and you eat ice cream by yourself or you retreat. And so to unlock what I think the behavioral possibilities of sympathy are, I think it needs to be infused with the sense that people can do something with their sympathy.

And that can be channeled through a movement, through movement leaders. A lot of social movements are about channeling people to, you can do something, sign this petition, march in the street, or it can just be motivated also by a sense of internal efficacy, this sense that you have resources and ability to impact change. So I think those moments do come around and it’s some people’s job to unlock efficacy among citizens. And so that can certainly happen again. But I think that is one situation in which we might see more expression of sympathy in the future.

Matt Grossmann: So I know the book just came out, but what’s on your agenda now? What are the next steps?

Jennifer Chudy: Yeah. So I’m going to continue to look at the relationship between sympathy and behavior through experiments with semi-behavioral dependent variables. I’m going to see if people click on links to contact elected officials or draft letters to contact elected officials rather than self-reported behavior like I have in the book to offer some avenue for people to do something, even in my survey environment. So I’m working on that. To build on your other point, I’m starting to look at more in-group attitudes and the relationship between, in-group attitudes and trust in the government. Rather than just studying white Americans with Drew Engelhardt, I’m working on a study that looks at black, Latino and Asian Americans and looking at the roots of political trust for those groups and how they vary based on in-group attitudes.

So that’s been a nice shift to be studying a broader voter base and to be looking at something like trust, which unlike sympathy, has been well-trodden in the political science literature, but not for a while. And so it’s exciting to look at that again and see if the race and ethnic politics literature can help us understand people’s trust in the government.

Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center. And I’m your host, Matt Grossmann. If you like this discussion, here are the episodes you should check out next, all linked on our website, Racial Stereotypes in Voting for Obama and Trump, Did Americans’ Racial Attitudes Elect Trump? Racial Protest, Violence, and Backlash, How Politics Changes Our Racial Views and Identities, and How Race Makes Us Less Punitive on Opioid Policy. Thanks to Jennifer Chudy for joining me. Please check out Some White Folks and then listen in next time.