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Facing Diversity: Categorizing Ambiguous Candidates in Canada and the US

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Abstract:

Prior scholarship has demonstrated that a candidate’s ethnic identity affects voters’ attitudes towards them. In the United States, research has found affinity towards co-ethnic candidates (Manzano & Sanchez, 2010; Stokes-Brown, 2006) as well as a repulsion (punishment) from non-co-ethnics (Kam, 2007; Terkildsen, 1993). Similar patterns have been found in other, developed and developing, countries (Aguilar, Cunow, Desposato, & Barone, 2015; Fisher, Heath, Sanders, & Sobolewska, 2014; Leigh & Susilo, 2009). In particular, several studies have found co-ethnic affinity towards candidates in Canada (Besco, Forthcoming; Sigelman & Sigelman, 1982), although it is not clear if there are negative effects (repulsion) as in the United States (Bird, 2015; Black & Erickson, 2006).

While the impact of a candidate’s ethnicity on voters’ attitudes is well established, such studies assume that candidates fall into clear ethnic and racial categories. In this study, we examine how respondents classify ethnically ambiguous candidates.

Some work has analyzed the effects of intra-ethnic variation. For example, candidates’ skin tone has been shown to influence individuals’ attitudes (Terkildsen, 1993; Weaver, 2012), while experimental studies have shown that degrees of racial characteristics, particularly those associated with black Africans, affect attitudes towards immigrants (Harell, Soroka, Iyengar, & Valentino, 2012; Iyengar et al., 2013). Nonetheless, such studies do not establish whether voters treat candidates with ambiguous ethnic/racial characteristics as mixed, or whether they place them into distinct categories. While treating ambiguous candidates as “mixed” or as on a spectrum of identity would seem rational, the rigid distinction between Whites and African Americans in the United States has historically been maintained through the rule of hypo-descent (the “one drop rule.”) (Davis, 1991). President Obama, for example, is generally considered to be African American rather than mixed-race or white despite his parents’ different racial identities. Such classification practices are important because although the relationship between ethnicity and political attitudes may be strong, the identity of candidates may not be demarcated clearly.

Caruso, Mead, and Balcetis (2009) found that partisan labelling helps individuals categorize ambiguous candidates into groups with higher or lower social status. We investigate this process without such a political heuristic. More precisely, what individual-level characteristics and political attitudes influence the categorization of ambiguous candidates into one group rather than another?

We compare responses in Canada and the United States because both countries are Anglo-American democracies, but with distinct traditions of ethnic and racial categorization. In particular, racial identity has long been a central organizing principle of politics in the United States (Omi & Winant, 1994), whereas in Canada, Visible Minorities were only recognized as a census category in the early 1990s, and have only recently become a sizeable share of the national population (19% in the 2011 Census). Therefore, these two cases provide similar electoral institutions with differing political and racial cultures, factors that will help with the generalization of the findings.

To address this question, we use an online survey to ask respondents to judge the identity of individuals described as political candidates based on photos from a stock image service. The investigators will first select “ambiguous” photos, and will then test how research assistants from both Canada and the US classify them into different ethnic categories. Only photos with significant inter-coder conflict will be used and we will control for casual (progressive) and formal (conservative) attire by presenting the same individuals in different clothing styles. Respondents will be asked to predict the candidates’ political affiliation, and following Harell et al. (2012), we will also control for attractiveness. We will collect basic socio-demographic (race/ethnicity, age, gender, education) and political attitudes (left/right, liberal/conservative, sophistication) data from the respondents.

Our principal hypothesis is that respondents who are less educated, lower income, and/or from less diverse localities will perceive ethnically ambiguous candidates as belonging to groups with a lower social status.
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MLA Citation:

Forest, Benjamin., Medeiros, Mike. and Piston, Spencer. "Facing Diversity: Categorizing Ambiguous Candidates in Canada and the US" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, TBA, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 31, 2016 <Not Available>. 2017-11-28 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1123522_index.html>

APA Citation:

Forest, B. , Medeiros, M. and Piston, S. , 2016-08-31 "Facing Diversity: Categorizing Ambiguous Candidates in Canada and the US" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association Annual Meeting, TBA, Philadelphia, PA <Not Available>. 2017-11-28 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p1123522_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: Prior scholarship has demonstrated that a candidate’s ethnic identity affects voters’ attitudes towards them. In the United States, research has found affinity towards co-ethnic candidates (Manzano & Sanchez, 2010; Stokes-Brown, 2006) as well as a repulsion (punishment) from non-co-ethnics (Kam, 2007; Terkildsen, 1993). Similar patterns have been found in other, developed and developing, countries (Aguilar, Cunow, Desposato, & Barone, 2015; Fisher, Heath, Sanders, & Sobolewska, 2014; Leigh & Susilo, 2009). In particular, several studies have found co-ethnic affinity towards candidates in Canada (Besco, Forthcoming; Sigelman & Sigelman, 1982), although it is not clear if there are negative effects (repulsion) as in the United States (Bird, 2015; Black & Erickson, 2006).

While the impact of a candidate’s ethnicity on voters’ attitudes is well established, such studies assume that candidates fall into clear ethnic and racial categories. In this study, we examine how respondents classify ethnically ambiguous candidates.

Some work has analyzed the effects of intra-ethnic variation. For example, candidates’ skin tone has been shown to influence individuals’ attitudes (Terkildsen, 1993; Weaver, 2012), while experimental studies have shown that degrees of racial characteristics, particularly those associated with black Africans, affect attitudes towards immigrants (Harell, Soroka, Iyengar, & Valentino, 2012; Iyengar et al., 2013). Nonetheless, such studies do not establish whether voters treat candidates with ambiguous ethnic/racial characteristics as mixed, or whether they place them into distinct categories. While treating ambiguous candidates as “mixed” or as on a spectrum of identity would seem rational, the rigid distinction between Whites and African Americans in the United States has historically been maintained through the rule of hypo-descent (the “one drop rule.”) (Davis, 1991). President Obama, for example, is generally considered to be African American rather than mixed-race or white despite his parents’ different racial identities. Such classification practices are important because although the relationship between ethnicity and political attitudes may be strong, the identity of candidates may not be demarcated clearly.

Caruso, Mead, and Balcetis (2009) found that partisan labelling helps individuals categorize ambiguous candidates into groups with higher or lower social status. We investigate this process without such a political heuristic. More precisely, what individual-level characteristics and political attitudes influence the categorization of ambiguous candidates into one group rather than another?

We compare responses in Canada and the United States because both countries are Anglo-American democracies, but with distinct traditions of ethnic and racial categorization. In particular, racial identity has long been a central organizing principle of politics in the United States (Omi & Winant, 1994), whereas in Canada, Visible Minorities were only recognized as a census category in the early 1990s, and have only recently become a sizeable share of the national population (19% in the 2011 Census). Therefore, these two cases provide similar electoral institutions with differing political and racial cultures, factors that will help with the generalization of the findings.

To address this question, we use an online survey to ask respondents to judge the identity of individuals described as political candidates based on photos from a stock image service. The investigators will first select “ambiguous” photos, and will then test how research assistants from both Canada and the US classify them into different ethnic categories. Only photos with significant inter-coder conflict will be used and we will control for casual (progressive) and formal (conservative) attire by presenting the same individuals in different clothing styles. Respondents will be asked to predict the candidates’ political affiliation, and following Harell et al. (2012), we will also control for attractiveness. We will collect basic socio-demographic (race/ethnicity, age, gender, education) and political attitudes (left/right, liberal/conservative, sophistication) data from the respondents.

Our principal hypothesis is that respondents who are less educated, lower income, and/or from less diverse localities will perceive ethnically ambiguous candidates as belonging to groups with a lower social status.


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