Local political experts weigh in on new report about ideology

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A new study on political ideology and race and gender only confirms what’s been known when it comes to political polarization, said a Miami University political scientist.

But Cedarville University political science professor Mark C. Smith said the survey questions used in the study that measured racism and sexism “are problematic.”

The study, authored by Hui Bai, a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, was published Monday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study shows that voters who demonstrate a bias against minorities and women will still support candidates if their political ideologies align.

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“There is wide debate about the extent to which they measure what they claim, or whether they are measuring something different,” Smith said. “Views of sex and race are complex. Labeling (voters) as sexist and racist based on flawed questions is problematic.”

One question on the role of women in society, Smith said, “might vary significantly” based on several factors beyond or instead of sexism.

Miami University political science professor Christopher Kelley said as Americans become more politically polarized, “it has pushed ideology to the top of what people regard as the most important thing to look for in selecting a candidate.” That is why, he said, candidates have trouble finding many swing or independent voters because most voters “have been pushed to the left or right.”

“If voters are looking now for candidates who are ideologically pure — regardless of a candidate’s age, sex, color or ethnicity — then those candidates have to run and govern on a platform of no compromise,” Kelley said. “And at the heart, our system is built on compromise.”

Bai said the research shows that citizens’ prejudices are “more nuanced than many people think” when it comes to political preferences.

“Overall, the perceived ideology of the candidate determines whether the candidate will be popular among racists and sexists,” said Bai. “Whether the candidate is Black or white, a man or a woman, does not seem to matter.”

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University of Cincinnati political science professor David Niven published a similar survey several years ago, and the bottom line is “politics is not skin deep.”

“People want to vote for candidates who think like they do more than candidates who look like they do,” he said. “You can see this basic principle in the presidential race.”

Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee because of deep support from African American voters - and he won those votes not because of what he looks like but because of who he is.

Niven’s study published in 2015 was on the response of African-American voters to Republican African-American candidates.

“Overwhelmingly, voters supported candidates based on their party and their ideas rather than their race,” Niven said.

“Voting patterns are powerfully shaped by people’s assessments of the racial sympathies of each party,” he said. “What this (2020) study does suggest, however, is that for most voters, the race and gender of a candidate are less important than their party and ideas.”

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