Researchers at Stanford University found that when they showed white subjects photos of President Barack Obama with darkened skin, those people became more likely to support right-wing political organizations like the Tea Party.
According to the Washington Post, sociologist Robb Willer and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments from 2011 to 2015 in which they demonstrated that some white voters may be driven by unconscious racial biases against people with darker skin.
The study came about when Willard found himself pondering why racist hysteria has ratcheted up in this country since the election of President Obama in 2008. The ranks of white supremacist groups swelled after Obama entered the White House and watchdog groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center report that hate groups have become more active in recent years.
In Republican politics, right-wing extremist Tea Party candidates ran longstanding GOP officials out of office as conservatives in this country doubled down in opposing the president and his policies.
"That left a lot of analysts slack-jawed, wondering: What was this latent force that drove the emergence of this movement?" Willer told the Post.
The research team interviewed volunteers who they separated into two groups. One group was shown photos of celebrities which included a photo of Obama with digitally lightened skin. The other group saw the same photos, but with an image of Obama with darker skin.
Among 255 white subjects, people shown the darkened picture of Obama were almost twice as likely to say that they support the Tea Party when questioned by researchers.
"The result suggests that some white Americans are more likely to oppose Obama solely because of the shade of his skin," wrote the Post's Max Ehrenfreund. "For them, the reality that someone with a dark complexion occupies the nation's highest office could be a source of unease."
The study group published the results of their work this week on the Social Science Research Network. The findings coincide with previous studies which have shown that racism has been an essential factor in Republican electoral victories.
"Polls consistently show that Republicans are more likely to hold racial prejudices, and not just in the South," the Post reported in March. "Nationally, almost one in five Republicans opposes interracial dating, compared to just one in 20 Democrats, according to the Pew Research Center. While 79 percent of Republicans agree with negative statements about blacks such as the one about slavery and discrimination, just 32 percent of Democrats do, the Associated Press has found."