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Discord Over DNA: Ideological Responses to Scientific Communication about Genes and Race 1

  • Alexandre Morin-Chassé (a1), Elizabeth Suhay (a2) and Toby E. Jayaratne (a3)

The American public's beliefs about the causes of social inequality vary greatly, with debates over the causes of racial inequality tending to be the most salient and divisive. Among whites in particular, liberals tend to see inequality as rooted in society's ills, whereas conservatives tend to see inequality as rooted in individuals’ shortcomings. Given this, many infer that white conservatives are more likely than white liberals to adopt the controversial view that racial inequality is “natural,” i.e., due to genetically inherited characteristics. We argue that genetic explanations for racial inequality, in and of themselves, offer little appeal to white conservatives. However, when white citizens are exposed to media messages that emphasize the egalitarian implications of genetic similarity between racial groups, those on the left and right engage in biased assimilation, resulting in a “nature” (conservative) versus “nurture” (liberal) divide. Data from two studies of white Americans—one representative survey and one experiment—support this theoretical framework.

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Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Elizabeth Suhay, Assistant Professor, Department of Government, School of Public Affairs, American University, Washington, D.C. E-mail:
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Authors’ Note: The first two authors contributed equally to this article.

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