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Racialized Cues and Support for Justice Reinvestment: A Mixed-Method Study of Public Opinion

Award Information

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Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $144,329)

Du Bois observed that White Americans’ prejudice against African Americans contributed to the social barriers that impeded Blacks’ ability to integrate into American society as free and equal citizens. A century later, research reveals that prejudice and stereotypes of Blacks still affect Whites’ level of support for social policies designed to ameliorate enduring structural disadvantage in the African American community. Racial priming theory holds that exposure to racialized images or language activates Whites’ stereotypes and decreases their support for social policies that would positively impact the African American community. In contrast, exposure to those same cues activates Blacks’ sense of in-group affiliation and increases their support for social policies. In this project, I use racial priming theory to test how exposure to racialized cues, such as the words “welfare” and “inner-city,” affect people’s support for justice reinvestment, a policy initiative to reduce prison populations, thereby saving states money, and instead invest those savings into more cost-effective means of reducing crime and disorder. Findings from this research will inform policymakers about the language choices that may increase or decrease public support for justice reinvestment, which will in turn affect the likelihood that justice reinvestment will be adopted in new states. This research will also contribute to scholars’ understanding of the public’s preferences for criminal justice spending within the constraint of a zero-sum budget. I propose a mixed-method study. First, the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston will recruit 60 volunteers from the Boston metro area to participate in six focus groups to discuss criminal justice policy and spending, with a focus on the justice reinvestment proposal to fund revitalization projects in disadvantaged communities. Two focus groups will be all White participants, two will be all Black, and two will be mixed Black and White participants. Second, a survey experiment will be administered to a representative sample of 2,100 Black and White Americans through the survey firm GfK’s KnowledgePanel. Participants will be randomly assigned to one of seven question wording conditions to test the effect of exposure to racialized cues on support for justice reinvestment. I will also test whether the effect of cue exposure depends upon 1) a respondent’s racial stereotypes and 2) his/her perception of whether or not the criminal justice system is fair and unbiased. Expected products from this research include peer-reviewed journal publications, presentations to academic and practitioner audiences, and research briefs for policymakers. This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law. ca/ncf
Date Created: September 16, 2015