Publication Date


Journal or Book Title

Public Opinion Quarterly


Research on the importance of race in the 2008 presidential campaign has focused almost exclusively on how white racial prejudice influenced vote choice. Instead, I test a theory about how mass public exposure to Obama influenced white racial prejudice. This is the first study to assess the impact of exposure to Obama on individual-level changes in prejudice using nationally representative panel data collected during the campaign. Throughout the campaign, innumerable images of Obama and his family contradicted negative racial stereotypes and changed the balance of black exemplars in mass media in a positive direction, thus causing reductions in prejudice among political television viewers. Exposure to Obama caused the largest reductions in prejudice among McCain supporters, Republicans, and conservatives. Although these individuals surely resisted Obama’s political message, consistent with previous research, racial exemplars influence judgments without deliberative processing, thus minimizing resistance to counter-stereotypical portrayals. Because conservatives have more negative preexisting images of blacks, exposure to Obama countered their expectations far more than those with more positive expectations. Moreover, consistent with the psychological basis for mediated intergroup contact, even exposure to conservative programs that criticized Obama’s politics reduced prejudice because these programs nonetheless portrayed him as countering negative racial stereotypes. Using three waves of panel data and fixed effects analyses of within-person change, I am able to make the strongest causal argument possible outside of experiments.