Reflections on Race and Gender in Politics Forum

Posted in Cognitive Science, Education, Gender Bias, Jacob Canon, Politics, Psychology, Racism, The Oscar Show, UVa College of Arts & Sciences, University of Virginia, elections, ethics, history at 11:04 am by Jacob Canon

In today’s show, we share comments and reflections from the UVa Faculty Roundtable concerning Race and Gender in Politics.

Last Thursday, the Miller Center of Public Affairs hosted the UVa Faculty Round Table on Race and Gender in Politics.   Sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Arts & Sciences Magazine, the forum was moderated by Douglas Blackmon, the Atlanta bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. The panel included UVa faculty members, Paul Freedman, Brian Nosek, Lynn Sanders, Vesla Weaver and Nick Winter.

Moderator, Douglas Blackmon called this point in time “an extraordinary moment in American history and American discourse,” while Associate Politics Professor Paul Freedman referred to this time as “Christmas” for political scientists because of the multicultural base of the presidential candidates.

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Freedman said the implicit message in political advertising is the important element of political ads.  An example of this was a 2006 Republican ad run in Tennessee, concerning Democrat, Harold Ford, Jr.  Freedman said, the ad included “a white woman who claimed to have had met Harold at the Playboy Party and she suggested that he call her, the ad concluded with the text on the screen, Harold Ford…’he’s just not right.’  And many people suggested that the implicit message was, ‘he’s just not white.’”  Freedman added this year’s election has seen less of these types of messages.

Associate Politics Professor Lynn Sanders, spoke to the question, “will Obama lose this election due to race.”   Referring to a recent Stanford AP poll and the subsequent media spin that Obama will lose the election by six to fifteen percent simply because he is black, Sanders said, “I think that it is really, really interesting how tied we are to that kind of pessimism. There is an alternative framework that we could be focusing on, which is… that we’re living in a time when we have accomplished such a feat that we can have these different kinds of candidates.”   Referring to the Bradley/Wilder effect - when voters tell pollsters they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, yet, on Election Day, they vote for the white candidate - Sanders said this effect has lessened over the past forty to fifty years and the reverse was observed in the 2006 Tennessee race between Ford and the Republican candidate.

Assistant Politics Professor Nick Winter spoke about the book he is working on, “The Secret History of Gender.”  Winter said, looking at data from the last three decades, the Democratic party is associated with stereotypically feminine traits such as being “… compassionate, generous, egalitarian, and so forth and conversely they like the republican party for relatively stereotypically masculine characteristics, it’s efficient, supports the work ethic…”  Yet, when it comes to Presidential candidates, he said the electorate tends to feel “… that our ideas about what it makes a good leader are themselves very associated with ideas about men and masculinity.”

Associate Professor of Psychology Brian Nosek’s data suggests that some political choices we make are influenced by “implicit” feelings toward blacks, women or the aged without us even realizing it. Nosek said of people who participate in his online surveys, “… 80% of white Americans who come on and try this task have a stronger association of black with bad, than white with bad, suggesting that they have associations in their minds that are quite distinct from the egalitarian values that they tend to express.  Likewise with gender, it’s harder to associate female with leader or female with career than males, even if they will explicitly say, ‘no, I’m  egalitarian minded… we don’t necessarily know that these things are happening.”

Mr. Blackmon observed that the research of the panelist had led to potentially opposed ideas of how much race and gender effect the election process.

Answering this question, Assistant Politics Professor Vesla Weaver satirically noted,  that this may be the first time that professor Sanders and she had been considered the “racial optimist in a room.”  She went on to say, “I’m certainly not saying that there aren’t negative racial attributions that happen.  I do think we need to question how much the Bradley Effect has been overstated, how much the negative aspect of race is the thing that makes headlines, and what effect that has on perceptions, on people, on raising sensitivities, on looking for it.”  Professor Sanders added that it was interesting “…the way conservative and optimistic, and liberal and pessimistic, are associated.  And this is a real consistent theme in this year’s election.”  She said that none of the panelist felt that bigotry and racism were no longer issues, yet much had changed in the short time since the 1960’s.

The goals of the panel to open public discussion on these issues were summarized by Professor Weaver’s salient comments concerning what would occur if the topic of race and gender were not brought to the public’s attention.  Weaver said, the danger is not only, not having this type of public discourse, but that “it opens up space for a powerful counter narrative to develop on November 5th.  And that is the counter narrative that, for blacks, for young voters, for anyone that was mobilized… and saw this as the first time their constituency was being spoken to, the counter narrative would be, if not now, then when.”  She added, “it opens up a rift in that powerful American dream logic.  It opens a rift in the notion that this is an egalitarian society.  That we can move forward together… And so if we don’t have that very public conversation now about race, the public conversation that going to get had when we look in the mirror on November 5th is going to be a conversation that is going to be uglier.”

You’ve been listening to the Oscar Show, I’m Jacob Canon. Join us next week when we will discuss the work of Brad Cox, professor of physics and a principal investigator with the University of Virginia’s High Energy Physics Group and his involvement with the new Large Hadron Collider in Geneva Switzerland.

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