Leftovers from “Democrats Are Changing Their Minds About Race, and the Youth Are Leading the Way”

Here is some additional analysis and information for an NYMag piece that Sean McElwee and I wrote.

We used Voter Study Group panel data to track changes in racial attitudes towards blacks–as measured the traditional racial resentment battery–over time. Below is a more standard cross-sectional approach that doesn’t exploit the panel structure, showing same-year racial resentment levels among Democrats vs. all Americans in 2011 and 2016.


The key takeaway above is the shift toward more racially liberal attitudes occurs among all Americans, but happens at a faster rate among Democrats.

Then, we checked whether certain demographic characteristics were most associated with this racial liberalization trend among Democrats specifically. To do so, we restricted our sample–already formed a sample of 8,000 Americans interviewed in both 2011 and 2016–to only respondents who identified as Democrats in 2011 and 2016. Thus, we’re following the same group of consistent Democrats and seeing what other characteristics predict change to more liberal racial attitudes.


The demographic most strongly associated with this change turned out to be age, as the above graph shows, which calculates a net agreement level for each racial resentment item across three key age groups. We see that the youngest individuals–those age 17-29 during the 2011 survey–show the greatest shifts toward more liberal racial attitudes.

We also checked to see if this held up in a multivariate model that accounted for other demographic attributes of respondents. Specifically we regressed a dependent variable–indicating whether a respondent shifted from a non-liberal racial attitude in 2011 to a liberal racial attitude in 2016–on a few key demographic variables. As an example, I’ll describe the components that went into Model 1 from the table below, modeling the battery item that asked whether people agreed that blacks have gotten less than they deserve over the last few years:

  • Dependent variable: Our outcome is a 1/0 indicator. For this particular battery item, agreement (strongly or somewhat agree) represents a liberal racial attitude. Thus, to capture shift towards a liberal racial attitude, this variable takes on a value of 1 if a respondent answered anything other than agreement in 2011 AND said they agreed with the statement in 2016, and 0 otherwise. I’ll note a couple of other points. First, ordinary least squares regression produces the same results as logistic regression, so we stick with OLS as a matter of interpretability. Second, using a binary variable here means we ignore degree of agreement (i.e. we treat “strongly” and “somewhat” agree the same) which still could be important. This is a tradeoff we make, where we place greater value on a simple measurement of an attitude switch. I may try some different modeling strategies that capture degree of agreement–I’ll update this post whenever I get around to that.
  • Independent variables: The predictors here are race (Non-white race with whites as the baseline), age (Age 30-54 and Age 17-29 with Age 55+ as the baseline), gender (Female with Male as the baseline), and education (College grad with Non-college grad as the baseline).


Comparing the size and significance of the coefficients here indicate that the youngest Democrats (Age 17-29) are shifting their racial attitudes in the liberal direction the most. Importantly, the strength of the relationship holds when controlling for other potentially important variables, like race and education.

Update 2/2/18:

I ran the same models but with a continuous (rather than binary) racial attitudes scale as the dependent variable. Results from before hold, as the youngest age group drives overall racial liberalization among Democrats the most. For each item and for each wave (2011 and 2016), I created a 1-4 scale out of the agree/disagree four-point Likert scale, where 4 always represented the most liberal racial attitude and 1 always represented the most conservative racial attitude. I then used the difference between the 2016 scale and 2011 scale to create the outcome measure (indicating racial attitude change in the liberal direction). Below is a plot of the coefficients from the same multivariate regression from above except for the dependent variable which is now this new continuous measure. As an example of how to interpret this result, for the “deservemore” item, Democrats of age 17-29 grew 0.36 points more racially liberal than Democrats of age 55+.


Leftovers from “Democrats Are Changing Their Minds About Race, and the Youth Are Leading the Way”

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