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“Race Coding” and White Opposition to Welfare

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2014

Martin Gilens*
Yale University


Crime and welfare are now widely viewed as “coded” issues that activate white Americans' negative views of blacks without explicitly raising the “race card.” But does the desire of whites to combat crime or curtail welfare really stem from their dislike of blacks? Are these not pressing problems about which Americans rightly should be concerned—apart from any associations these issues may have with race? In this paper I assess the extent to which white Americans' opposition to welfare is rooted in their attitudes toward blacks. Using conventional survey modeling techniques and a randomized survey-based experiment from a national telephone survey, I find that racial attitudes are the single most important influence on whites' welfare views. I also show that whites hold similar views of comparably described black and white welfare mothers, but that negative views of black welfare mothers are more politically potent, generating greater opposition to welfare than comparable views of white welfare mothers.

Research Note
Copyright © American Political Science Association 1996

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