My research centers on the politics of race, ethnicity, and identity in the U.S. context. I focus on the way that racism operates at the structural and individual level to shape attitudes, behavior, and political outcomes. Scroll down for more information about my work.
Who's Triggered? Explicit Racial Rhetoric and the Desire to Maintain White Dominance in U.S Politics
In recent years, the United States has witnessed a resurgence in the use of overt references to race and identity by politicians. This increase is surprising since previous studies in political communication and racial priming suggest that citizens reject explicit references to race. This book manuscript examines why this change has occurred. I propose and find that when members of a dominant group feel that their dominance is unstable, they are more likely to be receptive to derogations of minoritized groups as their prejudice is activated in order to maintain their dominant group position. For white people in the U.S., feeling that their racial dominance is faltering exerts a cross-pressure, challenging their adherence to the dominant norm of racial equality. When whites feel that their group's status on top of the racial hierarchy is threatened, they are more willing to tolerate negative, explicit racial appeals. The book manuscript uses survey experiments, observational survey data, and analyses of political media to demonstrate this link. My book conference is scheduled for November 2022. Part of this project has already been published in Political Behavior:
When Are Explicit Racial Appeals Accepted? Examining the Role of Racial Status Threat. Political Behavior.
Evidence has emerged demonstrating that whites no longer reject negative, explicit racial appeals as they had in the past. This seeming reversal of the traditional logic of the powerlessness of explicit appeals raises the question: Why are explicit racial appeals accepted sometimes but rejected at other times? Here, I test whether the relative acceptance of negative, explicit racial appeals depends on whites’ feelings of threat using a two-wave survey experiment that manipulates participants’ feelings of threat, and then examines their responses to an overtly racist political appeal. I find that when whites feel threatened, they are more willing to approve of and agree with a negative, explicit racial appeal disparaging African Americans—and express willingness to vote for the candidate who made the explicit racial appeal. [LINK]
Can Light Contact with the Police Motivate Political Participation? Evidence from Traffic Stops (with Kelsey Shoub). Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics.
Harsh, highly intrusive, personal contact with the criminal justice system has been shown to politically demobilize, but it is unclear whether less intrusive forms of police contact have any political effects. As the modal type of involuntary police-citizen contact is less invasive and more routine (e.g., a traffic stop), it is critical to understand the ramifications of lighter forms of contact. We argue that, unlike harsh police contact, light, personal, police contact can mobilize individuals, under certain circumstances. When a negative encounter with the police — even if it is minor — runs counter to prior expectations, people experiencing the contact are mobilized to take political action. Using three years of observational data and an original survey experiment, we demonstrate that individuals who receive tickets or are stopped by the police are more likely to participate in politics. These effects are most pronounced for individuals with positive evaluations of the police, often white respondents. [LINK]
Context Matters: The Conditional Effect of Black Police Chiefs on Policing Outcomes (with Kelsey Shoub). Urban Affairs Review.
A frequently proposed "solution" to the problem of racially targeted policing is to diversify the leadership of a police department, such as instate a Black police chief. However, little is known about how and when such changes may alter policing outcomes. Here, we question whether this descriptive representation leads to a reduction in racial disparities in policing outcomes and how the political and social context may condition that relationship – captured by why a transition took place. To test this, we turn to traffic stop data from nine agencies in Illinois that had variation in chief race between 2004 and 2018. We find that who heads a police department – and why they were appointed (i.e., transition type) – is linked to search rates following a traffic stop, which has implications for work on race and policing, descriptive representation, and local politics. [LINK]
Masks and Racial Stereotypes in a Pandemic: The Case for Surgical Masks (with Christopher J. Clark, Steven Greene, Marc J. Hetherington, and Emily Wager). Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics.
To contain the spread of COVID-19, experts emphasize the importance of wearing masks. Unfortunately, this practice may put blacks at elevated risk for being seen as potential threats by some Americans. In this study, we evaluate whether and how different types of masks affect perceptions of threat for a black male model and a white male model. We find that non-black respondents perceive a black model as more threatening when he is wearing a bandana or a homemade cloth mask than when he is not wearing his face covering--especially those respondents who score above average in racial resentment, a common measure of racial bias. When he is wearing a surgical mask, however, they do not perceive him as more threatening or less trustworthy. Further, it is not that non-black respondents find bandana and cloth masks problematic in general. In fact, the white model in our study is perceived more positively when he is wearing all types of face coverings. Though mandated mask wearing is an ostensibly race-neutral policy, our findings demonstrate the potential implications not.
Coverage: WRAL, FiveThirtyEight, ABC11, The Monkey Cage (Washington Post)
Better for Everyone: Black Descriptive Representation and Police Traffic Stops (with Frank R. Baumgartner, Derek A. Epp, Kevin Roach, and Kelsey Shoub). Politics, Groups, and Identities.
Racial disparities in citizen interactions with police are ubiquitous concerns in American communities. What difference does electoral representation make? We demonstrate that black descriptive representation in local government affects police activity and scrutiny in a given community. We use a new dataset comprised of over 79 municipal police departments spanning 6 states, based on tens of millions of individual-level traffic stops. In cities and towns with majority-black city councils, traffic stops are less likely to result in a search. This decline in search rates affects both white and black drivers, though the decline is larger for black drivers. Even after controlling for socioeconomic factors, segregation, and crime rates, descriptive representation still matters. A city council composed of a majority of black members is associated with important differences in policing, affecting both white and black residents. [LINK]
At the Intersection: Race, Gender, and Discretion in Police Traffic Stops (with Frank R. Baumgartner, Derek A. Epp, Kevin Roach, and Kelsey Shoub). Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics.
Racial disparities in traffic stop outcomes are widespread and well documented. Less well understood is how racial disparities may be amplified or muted in different contexts. Here we focus on one such situational factor: whether the initial traffic stop was related to a traffic safety violation or a (broadly defined) investigatory purpose. This is a salient contextual characteristic as stop type relates to different levels of assumed discretion and purpose. While all traffic stops involve some officer discretion, investigatory stops are more easily used as justifications to conduct a search based on an officer's diffuse suspicion; traffic safety stops are more often just what they seem. Using millions of traffic stops from several states, we show that black male drivers are more likely to be searched and less likely to be found with contraband and that this relationship is amplified where the initial stop purpose is investigatory. One implication of this is that one path to alleviating disparities in traffic stops for agencies is emphasizing traffic safety, rather than using stops as a supplemental investigatory tool. [LINK]
Race, Place, and Context: The Persistence of Race Effects in Traffic Stop Outcomes in the Face of Situational, Demographic, and Political Control (with Frank R. Baumgartner, Derek A. Epp, Kevin Roach, and Kelsey Shoub). Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics.
Evidence that racial minorities are targeted for searches during police traffic stops is widespread, but observed differences in outcomes following a traffic stop between white drivers and people of color could potentially be due to factors correlated with driver race. Using a unique dataset recording over 5 million traffic stops from 90 municipal police departments, we control for and evaluate alternative explanations for why a driver may be searched. These include: (1) the context of the stop itself, (2) the characteristics of the police department including the race of the police chief, and (3) demographic and racial composition of the municipality within which the stop occurs. We find that the driver’s race remains a robust predictor: black male drivers are consistently subjected to more intensive police scrutiny than white drivers. Additionally, we find that all drivers are less likely to be subject to highly discretionary searches if the police chief is black. Together, these findings indicate that race matters in multiple and varied ways for policing outcomes. [LINK]
Fines, Fees, Forfeitures, and Disparities: A Link Between Municipal Reliance on Fines and Racial Disparities in Policing (with Frank R. Baumgartner, Derek A. Epp, Kevin Roach, and Kelsey Shoub). Policy Studies Journal.
We investigate a possible linkage between municipal reliance on fines, fees, and forfeitures as a revenue source and policing behavior. With a dataset of four million traffic stops made by North Carolina municipalities, we demonstrate that a regular reliance on fines, fees, and forfeitures has powerful, predictable, and racially distinct impacts on black and white drivers, and that fiscal stress exacerbates these differences. A greater regular reliance on fines, fees, and forfeitures is linked to a decrease in the probability of white, but not black, drivers being searched; and increased odds of finding contraband among those white drivers who are searched, but no such change for black drivers. We validate the North Carolina tests with aggregate analyses of municipalities across four states. [LINK]
Intersectional Stereotyping in Policing: An Analysis of Traffic Stop Outcomes. Politics, Groups, and Identities.
Identity-based stereotyping often operates on perceptions about the intersection of multiple identities. Intersectional stereotyping predicts that certain combinations of attributes lend themselves more readily to perceived suspicion than others. In this paper, I test the way that suspicion-evoking stereotypes affect police-citizen interactions. Through the use of traffic stop data from Illinois spanning ten years and amounting to more than 20 million observations, I am able to produce accurate estimates for the relative degree of targeting that individual drivers face based on their racial, gender, age, and class-based perceived identities. Overall, I find both theoretical and methodological support for the necessity of intersectional analyses of identity-based profiling. [LINK]
Racial Disparities in Traffic Stop Outcomes. (with Frank R. Baumgartner, Derek A. Epp, Kevin Roach, and Kelsey Shoub). Duke Forum for Law and Social Change.
In this paper, we document the ubiquity of substantial racial disparities in the odds of adverse outcomes stemming from routine traffic stops. We do so with the largest database yet compiled of this most common form of citizen-police interaction. We show that it occurs in every state where we can find data, that it affects Black as well as Hispanic drivers, that the effects are very large, and that the simple bivariate comparisons are consistent with more sophisticated and demanding multivariate statistical tests. Racial disparities in traffic stops are large, ubiquitous across the nation, and troubling. [LINK]
Coverage: InjusticeWatch.org, The Daily Northwestern
Cited in Oregon State v. Arreola-Botello: 365 OR 695 (2019)