“Vote Your Aspirations: African American Candidates’ Racial Appeals in Majority-White Elections” with Richard Johnson, Nuffield College, Oxford

Event time: 
Tuesday, December 6, 2016 - 12:00pm through 1:20pm
Institution for Social and Policy Studies (ISPS), Room A001
77 Prospect St.
New Haven, CT 06511
Richard Johnson, DPhil Candidate in Politics, Nuffield College, Oxford
Event description: 


Abstract: Since the historic ‘Black Tuesday’ elections in 1989, many commentators have asserted that for African American candidates to succeed in majority-white elections, they must pursue a ‘deracialised’ campaign strategy, where the candidate purges racial rhetoric from campaign communications, avoids racialised policy issues, and maintains a strategic silence in the face of racial controversies. This manuscript, drawing on archival work across eighteen collections and over one-hundred elite interviews, argues that such accounts are theoretically malnourished and empirically unsubstantiated. Comparing thirteen African American candidates for governor, Senate, and House between 1989 and 2014, this study reveals that black candidates do not uniformly deracialise. In fact, some candidates pursue race-conscious campaign strategies which appeal to both white and non-white voters’ aspirations of ‘making history’, ‘doing the right thing’, defeating racism, or achieving racial progress. This manuscript sets out to explain why candidates are more inclined to select one racial campaign strategy over another and develops a new typology of racial campaign strategies, moving beyond the tired ‘racialised’/’deracialised’ dichotomy. It identifies three key factors (candidate biography, local elites, and racial context) which explain African American candidates’ strategic choices in majority-white elections. The contexts of race-conscious appeals are diverse and sometimes surprising, ranging from Massachusetts and Illinois to North Carolina and Utah. This thesis aims to contribute to a fuller understanding of the nature and potential of the full range of black politics in the United States.

Speaker: Richard Johnson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Politics & International Relations at the University of Oxford. He is a student at Nuffield College and a visiting researcher at ISPS.

Open to: 
General Public
Event type 
Seminar, Workshop