Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version

June 2001


Published in The American Review of Politics, Vol. 22. Summer. 2001: 233-255. Copyright 2001 The American Review of Politics. Used by permission.


This paper examines three competing hypotheses: racial threat, social contact and racial resentment. Using individual level and aggregate level data, these three hypotheses are tested by examining white racial attitudes, and a variety of contextual variables, on the prospective vote for a white racially conservative candidate. The evidence provides support for all three of these hypotheses. Racial threat is found to be conditioned by the black population density and the resentment that whites direct toward African Americans. The probability that a white person will support a racially conservative candidate does not depend solely on the black population. Indeed, it is reported here that racially sympathetic whites, who live in areas with high black population densities are highly unlikely to support a racially conservative candidate, providing support for the social contact hypothesis. On the other hand, whites living in the same context, but who express resentment toward African Americans, are almost certain to support the racially conservative candidate. These findings point to an innovative approach to examining the racial threat hypothesis.