Political Science

Rachel Lienesch

Rachel Lienesch
Racial Politics of the White Left
2021 Research Data Grant
Examining the Impact of Racial Justice Policy Messaging on Support from the White Left
2020–21 Survey Lab Project

Much has been written about the Democratic Party’s shift to the left on issues of racial justice and racial equity in the past few years. As part of this movement, an increasing number of Democratic politicians have started discussing and advocating for policies meant to address racial inequity by specifically helping nonwhite communities in the U.S. This racial policy messaging creates intense cross-pressures for White Democrats in the public because their Democratic partisan identity pushes them to support a message coming from a politician within their party, but their White racial identity may be threatened by this progressive messaging about race. Proposed policies that are perceived to benefit other racial groups at the expense of their own should be especially threatening to White Democrats because research in sociology has shown that individuals respond negatively when they feel their group’s access to resources is threatened by another racial group. In my experiments, I examine how White Democratic respondents react to politicians advocating for policies that specifically benefit nonwhite Americans. In my first survey experiment, I find that White Democrats penalize politicians who take a more progressive position on racial equity in hiring (prioritizing hiring nonwhite applicants vs. using race-blind hiring), but reward politicians who take a more progressive position in other issue areas. In my second experiment, I find preliminary evidence that local politicians who advocate for providing stimulus payments to only nonwhite members of the community are unsurprisingly penalized more than those who advocate for providing to stimulus payments to all community members, but are also penalized more than those who advocate for providing payments to only lower income members of the community. Results from both studies suggest that some White Democrats do not just react negatively to messaging about progressive racial justice policies, but also feel an increased sense of alienation from Democratic politicians who use such messaging.

Racial Politics of the White Left
2020 American Democracy Fellowship

Rachel's project through the Center for American Democracy at IRiSS examines how White Democrats respond to progressive racial messaging from Democratic politicians, especially messaging that is explicitly directed at Whites, and how electoral context (i.e., primary vs. general election) conditions the responses of these White Democrats.

Backlash or Encouragement? The Effect of Messaging That Is Critical of Whites on Democratic Voters
2018–19 Survey Lab Project

In recent years, Democratic candidates have begun to move left, at least rhetorically, when discussing issues of race and racism in the U.S. One example of this leftward movement is the recent use of messaging that is explicitly critical of whites for not doing enough to understand their own racial privilege and combat the causes of inequality. Candidates ranging from Hillary Clinton in 2016 to Joe Biden and Kirsten Gillibrand in 2018 have employed this type of messaging, but we know very little about how voters, even progressive voters, respond to this type of messaging and the candidates who use it.

In this project, I use a survey experiment to examine how messaging that is critical of whites’ handling of racism is received by potential voters. In the experiment, respondents are exposed to a press release from a fictional Democratic candidate running for state representative and the message in the candidate’s press release is varied. Preliminary results show that candidates who employ messaging that is critical of whites do experience backlash from prospective voters, and this backlash is especially high among white Democrats (as compared to white independents and Democratic-leaners). These results provide initial evidence that certain types of progressive messaging about race may harm Democratic candidates electorally, even among co-partisan voters who should be their strongest supporters.