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The Racial Resentment Study Pushed Heavily By The New York Times Is Seriously Flawed

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Saurabh Sharma Contributor
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Any political movement that owns both academia and the media has the power to create its own truth.

In a recent New York Times article that purports to analyze President Donald Trump’s re-election strategy, several of the Times’ top reporters outline what they claim will be a programmatic approach to breed racial resentment in America, utilizing the controversial members of the Squad as a foil for the president’s campaign.

It’s a bold claim, the kind that the paper of record would need to substantiate usually in order to give it top billing in its news section, so the authors turned to a study from two UC Davis professors, Carlos Algara and Isaac Hale. The study purports to show that white Democrats with high levels of “racial resentment” are among the most likely to cross party lines and vote for Republican candidates. This tendency, the Times claims, could be triggered by an election season framed as a referendum on the Squad, a group of left-wing women of color. (RELATED: The War For The Democratic Party Has Been Brewing For A Long Time)

One of the institutions in American life that retains any credibility is the field of science, and political scientists more than any other social scientists claim an intellectual and statistical rigor to their work typically reserved to the hard sciences. Citing a study can be powerful stuff.

This places a serious burden on political scientists, who, because of their proximity to the political process, have become extremely adept at manipulating studies, like polling, to achieve certain outcomes. How a question is worded can often lead to vastly different responses from the general public. The abortion debate is particularly susceptible to this kind of framing.

The motorcade of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump makes its way past the New York Times building after a meeting in New York U.S., Nov. 22, 2016. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

The motorcade of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump makes its way past the New York Times building after a meeting in New York U.S., November 22, 2016. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

So when a cited study in the New York Times (hidden behind a paywall) claims to link racial resentment among white Democrats to their tendency to cross party, it seems a little too good to be true, and digging, even a little, indicates that it is.

The study utilizes data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES), a National Science Foundation-funded survey that is conducted every year on a representative sample of over 50,000 Americans. The survey has hundreds of questions and collects in-depth demographic data on each of its participants. The goal of the survey is to provide political scientists a baseline against which to perform analysis on trends in the American polity.

In 2016 the following four questions were added to the CCES, based on a paper that claimed these questions, also called the FIRE (Fear, (acknowledgement of) Institutional Racism, and Empathy) scale, were sufficient to measure the racial resentment felt by American whites.

  • I am fearful of people of other races.
  • White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin.
  • Racial problems in the U.S. are rare, isolated situations.
  • I am angry that racism exists.

The study cited in the Times uses only three of these questions, omitting the first one for unspecified reasons. After rescaling the questions such that a higher agreement with the statement implies greater “racial resentment,” the authors of the study performed statistical analysis on the data to conclude that white Democrats who were more racially resentful under this scheme were more likely to cross party and vote for Trump. (RELATED: Trump Condemns Racism, Liberals Condemn Trump)

Breaking this down by question, if you believe that whites do not have certain advantages in the U.S. because of the color of their skin, then you have greater levels of racial resentment. If you believe that racial problems in the U.S. are rare, isolated situations, you have greater levels of racial resentment. And if you are not angry that racism exists in the U.S. (even if you presuppose that it does not exist), then you have greater levels of racial resentment.

ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 05: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the CFE Arena during a campaign stop on the campus of the University of Central Florida on March 5, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. Primary voters head to the polls on March 15th in Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The term used in the study — “racial resentment” — is technical jargon that is designed to communicate a very specific thing among political science researchers. The questions asked by the CCES do not align closely to the average citizen’s definition of racial resentment. They align much more closely with the orthodoxy on the political left about what constitutes ignorance about the state of American race relations, in the case of the first two questions, and a seemingly out of left-field question about anger.

But because of the evocative air about the term “racial resentment” the writers of popular news articles excitedly utilize the study, while providing their readers zero context as to the meaning of the term internally to the study. This makes the metric of racial resentment a Rorschach test for whatever the reader thinks of that term, anywhere from harmless ignorance to outright bigotry.

The study cited by the Times is itself an example of the cyclical information loop between prestige left-wing media and its collaborators in academia. The opening paragraphs of the study cite the leftist site Vox no fewer than four times, and it is peppered with references to the Washington Post, CNN, The New York Post, and other publications. These references are in almost all cases used to justify the premise of the study, that Trump has fomented racial resentment in the United States and the cross-party implications of that resentment are ripe for academic inquiry. (RELATED: PILGRIM: Trump May Be The Least Racist, Most Color-Blind President In History)

References in popular media are often very important to academics whose studies border on issues related to public interest. Tenure track, speaking fees, and research grants are all more readily available to academics that approach public intellectual status.

Having each hand solidly in both academia and the popular media allows it a political movement to essentially quote itself without sacrificing its feigned objectivity.