In Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics (U Chicago Press, 2020), LaFleur Stephens-Dougan argues that we focus on the use of negative racial appeals by the Republican Party, while ignoring the incentives that exist for some Democratic candidates to use race as much as, if not more than Republican candidates. The conventional wisdom is that a Democratic candidate would never be incentivized to invoke race and activate negative racial predispositions. Yet, according to the author, Democratic politicians regularly invoke negative stereotypes about African Americans. On numerous occasions President Obama, for example, publicly chastised black audiences. And, while it might seem surprising that a Democratic politician would use rhetoric that disparages their most loyal constituency, Obama is just one of many Democratic politicians who have been criticized for invoking negative stereotypes about African Americans for political gain. Stephens-Dougan explores when and why politicians of both parties will use negative racial appeals.
LaFleur Stephens-Dougan is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Princeton University. Her book Race to the Bottom: How Racial Appeals Work in American Politics won the 2021 David O. Sears Best Book on Mass Politics Award from the International Society for Political Psychology, and the 2021 Ralph J. Bunche Award from the American Political Science Association.
Host Ursula Hackett is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her Cambridge University Press book America's Voucher Politics: How Elites Learned to Hide the State won the 2021 Education Politics and Policy Best Book Award from the American Political Science Association. Her writing guide Brilliant Essays is published by Macmillan Study Skills. She tweets @UrsulaBHackett.