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Racial Projections in Perspective: Public Reactions to Narratives about Rising Diversity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2021


Threatened reactions to news about the approach of a racial majority-minority society have profoundly influenced Americans’ political attitudes and electoral choices. Existing research casts these reactions as responses to changing demographic context. We argue instead that they are driven in large part by the dominant majority-minority narrative framing of most public discussion about rising racial diversity. This narrative assumes the long-run persistence of a white-nonwhite binary in which the growing number of Americans with both white and non-white parents are classified exclusively as non-white, irrespective of how they identify themselves. Alternative narratives that take stock of trends toward mixed-race marriage and multiracial identification also reflect demographic fundamentals projected by the Census Bureau and more realistically depict the country’s twenty-first century racial landscape. Using three survey experiments, we examine public reactions to alternative narratives about rising diversity. The standard majority-minority narrative evokes far more threat among whites than any other narrative. Alternative accounts that highlight multiracialism elicit decidedly positive reactions regardless of whether they foretell the persistence of a more diverse white majority. Non-white groups respond favorably to all narratives about rising diversity, irrespective of whether they include the conventional majority-minority framing.

© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the American Political Science Association

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A list of permanent links to Supplemental Materials provided by the authors precedes the References section.


Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at:

Earlier versions of this work were presented at the Russell Sage Foundation’s 2016 conference “What the Census Bureau Needs to Know to Improve Ethnic, Racial, and Immigration Forecasts”; the Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration Colloquium at the University of California Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies; the 2017 Population and Public Policy Conference; the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association; the USC Center for International Studies Working Paper series; and the Research Colloquium at American University’s School of Government and Public Affairs. The authors thank participants for valuable feedback. They are especially indebted to Richard Alba, Eileen Díaz McConnell, Rodney Hero, Miriam Barnum, Pat James, and Matthew Wright, as well as to the editor and reviewers of Perspectives on Politics. Any remaining errors are ours.


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