Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44 (2008) 1563–1566
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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w . e l s e v i e r . c o m / l o c a t e / j e s p
Negational racial identity and presidential voting preferences
Chen-Bo Zhong a,*, Adam D. Galinsky b, Miguel M. Unzueta c
a University of Toronto, OBHRM, 105 St. George Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5S 3E6
b Northwestern University
c University of California, Los Angeles, USA
a r t i c l e
i n f o
a b s t r a c t
Previous research suggests that narrow identi?cation with one’s own racial group impedes coalition
Received 28 July 2008
building among minorities. Consistent with this research, the 2008 Democratic primary was marked
Revised 12 August 2008
by racial differences in voting preferences: Black voters overwhelmingly preferred Barack Obama, a Black
Available online 20 August 2008
candidate, and Latinos and Asians largely favored Hillary Clinton, a White candidate. We investigated one
approach to overcoming this divide: highlighting one’s negational identity. In two experiments simulat-
ing primary polling procedures, Asians and Latinos randomly assigned to think of and categorize them-
selves in negational terms (i.e., being non-White) were more likely to vote for Obama than participants
focused on their af?rmational identity (i.e, being Asian or Latino), who showed the typical preference for
Clinton. This shift in voting preference was partially mediated by warmer attitudes towards other minor-
ity groups. These results suggest that negational identity is a meaningful source of social identity and
demonstrate that whether one thinks about ‘‘who one is” versus ‘‘who one is not” has far-reaching impact
for real-world decisions.
Ó 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Cooperation between minority racial groups has been rare de-
& Hutchings, 1996); members of a minority group may believe that
spite sharing similar experiences with discrimination (e.g., Johnson
they have been uniquely oppressed and demand commensurate
& Oliver, 1989; McClain & Tauber, 1998). For example, nearly 57
redress for their particular group. Psychologists, most notably so-
percent of Latino immigrants who participated in a recent survey
cial identity theorists, have emphasized the processes through
felt that few or almost no Blacks could be trusted and nearly 59 per-
which identi?cation with social categories induces intergroup
cent believed that few or almost no Blacks were hardworking (McC-
behavior, with mere membership in a group driving in-group
lain et al, 2006). Similarly, Asian–Americans are often seen by other
favoritism (e.g., Tajfel, Billing, Bundy, & Flament, 1971). Still others
minority races as ‘‘unscrupulous, crafty, and devious in business”
have linked interracial competition to group size, suggesting that
(National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1994). Lacking positive
members of numerical minorities display both higher in-group
attitudes toward each other, Asians, Blacks, and Latinos in the Uni-
identi?cation and more intergroup discrimination (e.g., Leonardelli
ted States often compete over material and political resources, pre-
& Brewer, 2001).
venting them from formally and informally building coalitions (e.g.,
From these perspectives, narrow identi?cation with one’s own
Meier & Stewart, 1991; Kim & Lee, 2001). In fact, in one survey both
group can be an obstacle to interracial cooperation among minor-
Blacks and Latinos felt closer to Whites than to each other (Dyer,
ities. Consequently, one strategy for increasing cooperation in-
Vedlitz, & Worchel, 1989). In the 2008 Democratic primary, despite
volves offering competing groups a superordinate identity
minor differences in the political agenda of the two frontrunners,
(Sherif, 1966). Gaertner, Mann, Murrell, & Dovidio (1989) found
Black voters overwhelmingly preferred Barack Obama, a Black can-
that creating a superordinate identity for two competing teams,
didate, whereas Latinos and Asians largely favored Hillary Clinton, a
by asking participants in both teams to create a unique name for
White candidate (Goldstein, 2008).
themselves, signi?cantly reduced inter-group bias in later group
Scholars have explained the dearth of alliances among racial
interaction. This recategorization strategy, however, has not al-
minorities through processes of social identi?cation. Sociologists,
ways been effective at the societal scale. For example, the superor-
such as Blumer (1958), have focused on beliefs about the rights
dinate identity ‘‘Democrats” failed to unite a racially fragmented
and resources that group members are entitled to based on their
constituency in the 2008 Democratic primary. Indeed, a Gallup poll
group’s perceived social standing and past injustices (see also Bobo
in March 2008 showed that 28 percent of Clinton supporters and
19 percent of Obama supporters indicated they would vote for
Republican candidate John McCain over their fellow democrat in
* Corresponding author. Fax: +1 416 978 4629.
the general election (Newport, 2008).
E-mail address: Chenbo.email@example.com (C.-B. Zhong).
0022-1031/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
C.-B. Zhong et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44 (2008) 1563–1566
Negational identity and coalition formation
to vote for Obama when their negational racial identity (i.e., non-
White), as compared to their af?rmational identity (i.e., Asians or
In the present research, we propose a different approach for
Latinos), was made salient.
dealing with narrow racial identi?cation in a sociopolitical context.
Recent research suggests that af?rmational identity—who or what
we are—may not be the only source of identi?cation. Groups to
which we do not belong may be equally informative to our sense
of self, with individuals being able to identify negationally by focus-
ing on what they are not. Thus, an individual could focus on being
Participants and design
Black, an af?rmational identity, or on not being White, a negational
Participants were 38 Asian undergraduates from Northwestern
identity (Zhong, Phillips, Lenardelli, & Galinsky, 2008). For exam-
University who were born or had lived in the United States for at
ple, Elsbach and Bhattacharya (2001) found that for some individ-
least 3 years (23 male; average age 19.71). The experiment con-
uals, the negational identity of ‘‘not being a member of the NRA
sisted of two between-subjects conditions: af?rmational identi?ca-
(National Ri?e Association (NRA)”, a non-pro?t organization in
tion condition and negational identi?cation condition.
the United States dedicated to defending the right of individuals
to bear arms, itself carried signi?cant meaning. Similarly, using a
modi?ed twenty statements test where participants listed what
Participants came to the lab and were told that they would en-
they are or what they are not (Kuhn and McPartland, 1954), Zhong
gage in a number of unrelated tasks.
et al. (2008) found that negational identities comprise a signi?cant
part of self-identity. Even though the total number of negational
Racial identi?cation manipulation. The ?rst task asked participants
identities generated was smaller compared to the number of af?r-
to think and write about their experiences living in the United
mational identities, the content of those negational identities cap-
States. In the af?rmational condition, participants were asked to
tured signi?cant political (e.g., not a Republican), social (e.g., not a
write about how being Asian has affected their life in the United
sorority member), and religious contexts (e.g., not an evangelical
States. In the negational condition, they wrote about how being
not a Caucasian has affected their life.
Unlike af?rmational identity, which leads to in-group bias by
causing people to assimilate to the in-group (Turner, 1987), nega-
Presidential voting preference. Participants next completed an
tional identity leads people to differentiate from a common out-
ostensibly unrelated survey about the 2008 Presidential primary.
group, making the out-group the central focus and psychologically
They read, ‘‘If the Democratic Presidential Primary or Caucus in
primary. By drawing attention away from one’s own group, nega-
your state were being held today to select a Democratic candidate
tional categorization may offer a route for coalition building among
and your choice for the Democratic nomination were just Hillary
groups that share the same non-membership—i.e., a negational ra-
Clinton and Barack Obama, which one would you vote for if you
cial identity that emphasizes not being a member of the majority
had to decide today.” They checked the box next to the preferred
group may break down the racial divide among minority groups
candidates or uncommitted. Participants were fully probed for sus-
and unite them into a common cause.
picion, debriefed, thanked, and paid. None of the participants rec-
History is replete with examples of people, nations, and civiliza-
ognized a link between the identi?cation manipulation and the
tions uniting around who and what they are not. Even if individu-
voting preference measure.
als cannot agree on who they are, they can often agree on who or
what they are not: they are not the barbarian, the primitive, the Or-
iental, or the fundamentalist (Purdue, 2005). In one captivating his-
torical example, the role of negational identi?cation has been seen
We predicted that the Asian participants in the negational con-
as a critical force driving major shifts in the Iranian political iden-
dition would report being more likely to vote for Obama than par-
tity, ?rst as non-Sunnis in the 16th century and then as non-Jews
ticipants in the af?rmational condition. Indeed, participants who
with the emergence of Israel (Duara, 1997). The construction of Is-
wrote about not being a Caucasian were more likely to vote for
rael as the common enemy allowed previously competing groups
Obama than participants who wrote about being an Asian,
(pre-Israel Shiites and Sunnis) to bond and relate to each other.
v2 = 5.22, p = .0221 (Table 1). Thus, the af?rmational condition rep-
This example demonstrates that negational identi?cation can be
licated the voting pattern among Asians in the California primary
a signi?cant prelude to cooperation among formerly warring
(a signi?cant preference for Clinton), whereas activating a negational
racial identity increased Asian participant’s willingness to vote for
Obama, the racial minority candidate.
We predicted that when negational identities are made salient
The purpose of Experiment 2 was twofold. First, we sought to
(e.g., not being White), members of racial minorities will be more
replicate the pattern from Experiment 1 with a different minority
likely to support a political candidate from other racial minority
group, Latinos. Second, in addition to examining voting prefer-
groups relative to a candidate from a majority racial group (i.e.,
ences, we measured attitudes toward racial minorities as a possible
White). Further, we expect this difference to be driven by warmer
mechanism underlying the effect of negational identity on voting
attitudes towards other minority groups when negational racial
preferences. We predicted that Latinos who thought about their
identities are salient. The 2008 Democratic primary offered a un-
negational identity would express more positive feelings towards
ique opportunity to test the power of negational identity to unite
other minority groups in general and this greater warmth may
minority voters around the racial minority candidate, Barack Oba-
ma. Between October 16 and December 17 in 2008 (before the ?rst
Democratic Party contest, the Iowa Caucus), we conducted two
experiments that simulated political polling and tested whether
1 In both experiments, the v2 analysis contrasted Obama versus Hilary and
Asians (Experiment 1) and Latinos (Experiment 2) were more likely
C.-B. Zhong et al. / Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 44 (2008) 1563–1566
Whereas conventional appeals to common experience of dis-
Voting preferences as a function of negational & af?rmational racial identity
crimination or superordinate identities such as party af?liations
(percentage within condition in parentheses)
have not been very successful in overcoming group barriers among
minority racial groups, we found that highlighting one’s negational
identity as non-White increased Latino and Asian support for a
Black Presidential candidate, even without any coordination of
interests (given the minor differences between the two front run-
ner’s policy). Further, we found that activating a negational racial
identity made Latinos’ attitudes toward other minority groups
more positive and these attitudes partially drove their shift in vot-
ing preferences in favor of Obama. Given that the mediation results
were not conclusive, future studies are needed to better
explain the increased preference for the racial minority Presiden-
categorization. Nevertheless, our ?ndings suggest that negational
identity may be a non-intrusive intervention to reconcile differ-
ences and distrust among racial minority groups.
Negational identi?cation, recategorization, and common enemies
Participants and design
Participants were 38 Latino students from UCLA who were born
Our conceptualization of negational identi?cation shares theo-
or had been in the United States for at least 3 years (25 female;
retical connections with intergroup theories of recategorization
average age 20.74). The experiment consisted of two between-sub-
and common enemies. Unlike the recategorization schemes that
jects conditions: af?rmational identi?cation condition and nega-
have been previously examined in the literature (Gaertner et al.,
tional identi?cation condition.
1989), which tend to focus on highlighting similarities through
common membership, negational identi?cation highlights distinc-
tions and non-membership. Negational identi?cation can be seen
The procedure was identical to Experiment 1, except partici-
as an alternative form of recategorization: former out-groups are
pants responded over the Internet. After indicating their voting
united around non-membership and as a result become in-group
preferences, participants rated their attitudes toward African
members. Our results demonstrate that negational categorization
Americans and South and East Asians on 100-point thermometer
can be a powerful force in social interaction, even compared to
scales (1—cold–100—warm; Bobo and Hutchings, 1996). We aver-
the more conventional categorization strategies that focuses on
aged these ratings to form a composite measure of attitude to-
af?rmational ties (e.g., we are all Democrats).
wards other minorities (a = .84).
We also see negational identity as tightly intertwined and
reciprocally coupled with the notion of a common enemy. The
presence of a common enemy can certainly trigger negational
identi?cation. In the example of Iranian identity, negational na-
The results replicated Experiment 1: participants in the nega-
tional identity as non-Sunnis or non-Jews was triggered by the
tional condition were more likely to vote for Obama than partici-
presence of Sunni neighbors and Israel. However, we think that
pants in the af?rmational condition, who again preferred Clinton,
negational identi?cation can be a cause and not just a consequence
v2 = 3.89, p = .049 (Table 1). In addition, participants in the nega-
of having a common enemy that uni?es warring factions. In fact,
(M = 83.07,
previous research has found that people who were simply catego-
SD = 17.29) more warmly than those in the af?rmational condition
rized as not a member of a certain group (e.g., you are not a mem-
(M = 69.75, SD = 18.83), t(36) = 2.27, p = .029, d = .74. These atti-
ber of group M) displayed greater animosity towards that group
tudes predicted voting for Obama in a binary logistic regression,
(the out-group) compared to the level of out-group derogation by
(B = .04, SE = .02, Wald (1) = 4.10, p = .04). Further, when both cat-
those who were categorized af?rmationally (e.g., you are a mem-
egorization and attitudes were included in the logistic regression,
ber of group M; Zhong et al., 2008). Thus to some extent activating
categorization no longer predicted voting preference, B = 1.0,
negational identi?cation can also ‘‘create” the common enemy.
SE = .74, Wald (1) = 1.80, p = .18; however, the effect of attitudes
on voting preference also no longer reached conventional levels
Negational identi?cation and political mobilization
of signi?cance, B = .03, SE = .02, Wald (1) = 2.45, p = .12. These re-
sults are suggestive of partial mediation—negational racial catego-
The implications of negational identity are not limited to racial
rization improved attitudes towards other minority groups which
context. Now that the Democratic primaries are over and Obama
affected Latinos’ willingness to vote in favor of Obama. However,
has emerged as the Democratic presidential candidate, negational
this conclusion should be interpreted with caution given the small
identi?cation (e.g., I am not a Republican) may help ameliorate the
rift between Obama and Clinton supporters that intensi?ed during
the Democratic primary (Newport, 2008). However, it is important
to note that appealing to negational identities is not a panacea; for
example, our manipulations of negational racial identity could
The present work was partially inspired by the 2008 Democratic
place a strain on the relationship between racial minorities and
Primary, which was marked by racial differences in voting prefer-
the White majority as previous research has shown that nega-
ences (Goldstein, 2008). This pattern re?ects a long standing divide
tional categorization tends to intensify out-group derogation
among minority racial groups in the United States—instead of com-
(Zhong et al., 2008).
bining strengths, various minority groups often view each other as
Even if such costs are dismissed, questions remain as to the
a source of competition over social and political resources, weak-
appropriateness of using negational racial identity in political
ening the political power of minorities relative to the White major-
activities. Many people advocate that political alliances be based
ity (e.g., Meier & Stewart, 1991; Kim and Lee, 2001).
on issues and policies and not merely on social group memberships
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- Negational racial identity and presidential voting preferences
- Negational identity and coalition formation
- Experiment 1
- Participants and design
- Racial identification manipulation
- Presidential voting preference
- Experiment 2
- Participants and design
- Negational identification, recategorization, and common enemies
- Negational identification and political mobilization