Are you a biased voter?

Last January I posted a link to an online test that you can take, which supposedly reveals if you have even a subconscious racial bias. One of the researchers conducting the study was Harvard’s Mahzarin Banaji. Banaji and her colleagues have just revealed results from their latest set of experiments which, if true, corroborates what many of us have suspected about politics. I love a bit of controversy on a Monday. From the Washington Post:

The field of social psychology has long been focused on how social environments affect the way people behave. But social psychologists are people, too, and as the United States has become increasingly politically polarized, they have grown increasingly interested in examining what drives these sharp divides: red states vs. blue states; pro-Iraq war vs. anti-Iraq war; pro-same-sex marriage vs. anti-same-sex marriage. And they have begun to study political behavior using such specialized tools as sophisticated psychological tests and brain scans…

Emory University psychologist Drew Westen put self-identified Democratic and Republican partisans in brain scanners and asked them to evaluate negative information about various candidates. Both groups were quick to spot inconsistency and hypocrisy – but only in candidates they opposed.

When presented with negative information about the candidates they liked, partisans of all stripes found ways to discount it, Westen said. When the unpalatable information was rejected, furthermore, the brain scans showed that volunteers gave themselves feel-good pats — the scans showed that “reward centers” in volunteers’ brains were activated. The psychologist observed that the way these subjects dealt with unwelcome information had curious parallels with drug addiction as addicts also reward themselves for wrong-headed behavior.

Another study presented at the conference, which was in Palm Springs, Calif., explored relationships between racial bias and political affiliation by analyzing self-reported beliefs, voting patterns and the results of psychological tests that measure implicit attitudes — subtle stereotypes people hold about various groups.

That study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did.

Not so fast, say a few expected critics.

Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said he disagreed with the study’s conclusions but that it was difficult to offer a detailed critique, as the research had not yet been published and he could not review the methodology. He also questioned whether the researchers themselves had implicit biases — against Republicans — noting that Nosek and Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji had given campaign contributions to Democrats.

Wait. Was Kanye right?

“Obviously, such research does not speak at all to the question of the prejudice level of the president,” said Banaji, “but it does show that George W. Bush is appealing as a leader to those Americans who harbor greater anti-black prejudice.”

And the parting shot:

Jon Krosnick, a psychologist and political scientist at Stanford University, who independently assessed the studies, said…”If anyone in Washington is skeptical about these findings, they are in denial,” he said. “We have 50 years of evidence that racial prejudice predicts voting. Republicans are supported by whites with prejudice against blacks. If people say, ‘This takes me aback,’ they are ignoring a huge volume of research.”

22 thoughts on “Are you a biased voter?

  1. Banaji’s bio:

    Mahzarin Rustum Banaji was born and raised in India , in the town of Secunderabad… Her B.A. is from Nizam College and her M.A. in Psychology from Osmania University in Hyderabad… [she] taught at Yale University from 1986 until 2001… in 2002 she moved to Harvard University…
  2. Darn, didn’t think they’d figure it out-

    Looks like I’m out of the closet- I’m biased against blacks……

  3. big whoopee… I’m sure the reverse statement would hold up experimentally as well -

    That study found that supporters of candidate Kerry and other liberals had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against rednecks than conservatives did.

    both parties consist of shaky coalitions who are often at war with each other (of late the internecine warfar within the Dem center and Left has been getting a lot of press). The downside of this is a multitude of unholy alliances…

  4. I’m biased against both blacks and rednecks though… how do I signify that?

    BTW: I’M KIDDING. I have been accused of racism in the past- but that’s a story for another time…

  5. I think that respondents on this thread should have either a (D) or (R) next to their names.

    That’s biased against (L)’s and (G)’s.

    Personally my words are (C) and (TM).

  6. Ha! Check this out (via DailyKos):

    We will have a Jesse Jackson piñata, a dunk tank where you’ll get the chance to sink my wife who will be dressed as Hilary Clinton, and a special guest appearance by my uncle – Rep. Timothy V. Johnson who will be giving away “Proud to be G.O.P.” American Flag windbreakers. Bring a side dish if you like. We will have burgers, hot dogs, chili, and pizza, but nothing vegetarian! This party is family friendly, so feel free to bring children. It’s never too early to get them involved!
  7. or should I say (L) (that’s Liberal for you non-Canadians :) and those who think Stephen Harper is actually an alien)

    My result was an automatic preference for blacks over whites – strangely, should I be feeling this vindication???

  8. I just realized that this is a pairing of an Eastern girl and a Westen boy … [Humming the Pet Shop Boys', "West End Girls"]

  9. So what if someone wanted to beat a Jesse Jackson pinata? I can’t stand the guy either, I’d be first in line to do that. And for a Al Sharpton pinata also..

    Wow, not really helping my case here am I?

  10. Is it just me or is it intrinsically bugging that the Ethnicity category in the ‘Demographics’ section that is provided before taking any of the Implicit Association tests only allow for a brown person of South Asian origin to choose between “Asian or Pacific Islander” or “Other or Unknown”? I’m of Indian (not the kind that Columbus mistook for Indian) origin and hence I guess “brown” – another vaguely unsatisfactory category….

    Technically, I should choose “Asian or Pacific Islander” by virtue of the Indian subcontinent being part of the Asian continent, but really, we all know that when the average American thinks of “Asian”, they think East Asia, not South Asian, just as in the UK, they think South Asian and not East Asian. Forgetting the Brits for the moment, am I the only one bugged that I was forced to choose “Other or Unknown”? That is certainly not a pleasant thing to do, considering we generally all like to have some sort of identity – I don’t know anyone who would actually choose to be an “other or unknown” when there are one billion of us on this planet…

  11. Whoa.

    I got little to no bias between dark and lightskinned people. I was totally cringingly prepared to get something worse.

    But that test is freaking hard. I mean, if it was apples and oranges and up and down, I’d have been confused.

  12. “Your data suggest a slight association of African American with Harmless Objects and European American with Weapons compared to European American with Harmless Objects and African American with Weapons.”

    Um, yeah, maybe b/c like half the weapons looked like they were stolen off the set for Two Towers, and the other half off the set for Cold Mountain. ?!?

    But honestly, I’ve encountered more weapons in the hands of white people than black people, so I guess that’s not too surprising.

    Also do ice cream (heart attack), nalgene bottles (bisphenol-A), and cell phones (bomb switches/brain tumors) really count as harmless objects?

  13. They have a whole slew of tests for India including preference tests for India-US, India-Pakistan, Hindu-Muslim.

    Sorry if someone said that already.

  14. Meh, whatever. It’s just an indicator which may or may not be accurate (I would like a detailed explanation of their methods). We all have our prejudices – it’s all about either engaging with them – or suppressing them ;)

  15. I have run in to this test before, I think it is bunk and I fail to see what it accomplishes The test conditions you to respond a cretin way to the different categories, then changes the semantics on you. Obviously, you are going to get the categories mixed up…

  16. big whoopee… I’m sure the reverse statement would hold up experimentally as well - That study found that supporters of candidate Kerry and other liberals had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against rednecks than conservatives did.

    Redneck is not a race.