Inequality, Diversity and Working-Class Attitudes

Awarded Scholars:
Monica McDermott, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Eric Knowles, New York University
Jennifer Richeson, Northwestern University
Project Date:
Dec 2015
Award Amount:
$114,316
Project Programs:
Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration

Political scientists have posited that the shift of many white working-class voters from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party may be related to the Democrats' association with black Americans and ethnic minorities. This change raises questions about how attitudes are formed and about the malleability of social identity. How do white working-class voters define common (or in-group) identity, and how does exposure to different kinds of social messages affect their sense of common fate with others outside their group? For example, why don’t members of the white working class ally more with working class non-whites with whom they have shared economic interests? Why does race appear to trump social class as the primary basis for party allegiance?

Sociologist Monica McDermott and social psychologists Eric Knowles and Jennifer Richeson will conduct a series of experiments to investigate the reactions of working-class whites to conditions in which their relative social disadvantages are highlighted and in which the growth and visibility of racial and ethnic minorities is made salient. The experiments will be followed by a qualitative study of working-class residents and community leaders, in three strategically selected communities, to learn about their reactions to increasing racial and ethnic diversity.

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