Barack Obama’s race could be holding him back in polls by some 6 points, a poll suggests, but it’s not necessarily because of racists, Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times. More likely, it’s an unconscious matter of “aversive racism”—decisions made based on race by people who don’t think they’re racist, a phenomenon shown in decades of research.
Aversive racists’ “doubts tend to be attributed not to the person’s race—because that would be racism—but deflected to other areas that can be talked about, such as lack of experience,” says a psychologist. More than half of whites have such biases, experiments show. “But another lesson, a historical one, is that we can overcome unconscious bias,” Kristof notes. Prejudice against Catholics dropped after JFK was elected; experts speculate the same could happen with race.