A lot of 2008 election analysis focused on prejudice and race—would white Americans vote for a black president? In his recent Public Opinion Quarterly piece, Seth Goldman turns this question around to ask how the massive reach of the Obama campaign affected racial prejudice. He shows that, in just six months, the “Obama Effect” reduced racial prejudice at a rate five times faster than the average drop in racism over the entire previous twenty years. Because the same people were polled at various times during the Obama campaign, Goldman was able to measure individual- rather than group-level changes.
Unexpectedly, this effect was strongest among McCain supporters, especially those who watched political television shows. The effect was even stronger in states where the Obama campaign aired an influx of television advertisements. Watching TV didn’t change Republicans’ political views or swing their vote. Instead, seeing Obama challenged their expectations of black Americans by offering a positive image and countering stereotypes. Television is where media acts as a point of “virtual” contact between racial groups—and as Goldman argues, it can reduce prejudice as effectively as a face-to-face encounter.