Skip to main content Accessibility help

UNDERSTANDING “NO SPECIAL FAVORS”: A Quantitative and Qualitative Mapping of the Meaning of Responses to the Racial Resentment Scale

  • Alicia D. Simmons (a1) and Lawrence D. Bobo (a2)


Despite its predictive power, there is substantial debate about the attitudes measured by the racial resentment scale (RRS) and the relative weight of each. One group contends that the RRS is a valid measure of racial animus, foregrounding a basic psychological acrimony; some foreground social concerns about group status hierarchies; and yet others assert that the RRS is an invalid measure of racial enmity, instead primarily tapping non-racial principles and politics. We use a multimethod approach to address these debates, mapping the frames of reference respondents use in explaining their RRS answers. We find that the RRS fundamentally measures racial concerns and minimally taps non-racial politics. Although RRS responses reflect psychological acrimony, this orientation is substantially outweighed by social concerns about relative group position. Moreover, RRS responses substantially reflect beliefs about the relevance of race in the contemporary US and the sources of racial inequality, and values about individualism and fairness. We discuss how one of the most potent measures of present-day racial prejudice is rightly understood, and the implications for theory and research at the intersection of race and politics.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Associate Professor Alicia Simmons, Department of Sociology, Colgate University, 422 Alumni Hall, Hamilton, NY, 13346. E-mail:


Hide All
Allport, Gordon W. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley Publishing Company.
Blumer, Herbert (1958). Race Prejudice as a Sense of Group Position. Pacific Sociological Review, 1(1): 37.
Bobo, Lawrence D. (1983). Whites’ Opposition to Busing: Symbolic Racism or Realistic Group Conflict? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45(6): 11961210.
Bobo, Lawrence D. (1988). Group Conflict, Prejudice, and the Paradox of Contemporary Racial Attitudes. In Katz, P. A., and Taylor, D. A. (Eds.), Eliminating Racism: Profiles in Controversy, pp. 85114. New York: Plenum Press.
Bobo, Lawrence D. (1999). Prejudice as Group Position: Microfoundations of a Sociological Approach to Racism and Race Relations. Journal of Social Issues, 55(3): 445472.
Bobo, Lawrence D., and Hutchings, Vincent L. (1996). Perceptions of Racial Group Competition: Extending Blumer’s Theory of Group Position to a Multiracial Social Context. American Sociological Review, 61(6): 951972.
Bobo, Lawrence D., Kluegel, James R., and Smith, Ryan A. (1997). Laissez-Faire Racism: The Crystallization of a Kinder, Gentler, AntiBlack Ideology. In Tuch, S. A., and Martin, J. K. (Eds.), Racial Attitudes in the 1990s: Continuity and Change, pp. 1542. Greenwood, CT: Praeger.
Bobo, Lawrence D., and Tuan, Mia (2006). Prejudice in Politics: Group Position, Public Opinion, and the Wisconsin Treaty Rights Dispute. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo (2006). Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Carmines, Edward G., Sniderman, Paul M., and Easter, Beth C. (2011). On the Meaning, Measurement, and Implications of Racial Resentment. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 634(1): 98116.
Carter, J. Scott, and Lippard, Cameron (2015). Group Position, Threat, and Immigration: The Role of Interest Groups and Elite Actors in Setting the “Lines of Discussion.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, 1(3): 394408.
Charles, Camille Zubrinsky (2006). Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: Race, Class, and Residence in Los Angeles. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Denis, Jeffrey S. (2012). Transforming Meanings and Group Positions: Tactics and Framing in Anishinaabe-White Relations in Northwestern Ontario, Canada. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 35(3): 453470.
Denis, Jeffrey S. (2015). Contact Theory in a Small-Town Settler-Colonial Context: The Reproduction of Laissez-Faire Racism in Indigenous-White Canadian Relations. American Sociological Review, 80(1): 248–242.
Doan, Long, Loehr, Annalise, and Miller, Lisa R. (2014). “Formal Rights and Informal Privileges for Same-Sex Couples: Evidence from a National Survey Experiment.” American Sociological Review, 79(6): 11721195.
Feldman, Stanley (1988). Structure and Consistency in Public Opinion: The Role of Core Beliefs and Values. American Journal of Political Science, 32(2): 416440.
Feldman, Stanley, and Huddy, Leonie (2005). Racial Resentment and White Opposition to Race Conscious Programs: Principles or Prejudice. American Journal of Political Science, 49(1): 168183.
Fox, Cybelle (2004). The Changing Color of Welfare? How Whites’ Attitudes toward Latinos Influence Support for Welfare. American Journal of Sociology, 110(3): 580625.
Goldsmith, Kelly, and Dhar, Ravi (2013). Negativity Bias and Task Motivation: Testing the Effectiveness of Positively versus Negatively Framed Incentives. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 19(4): 358366.
Healy, Andrew, and Lenz, Gabriel S. (2013). Substituting the End for the Whole: Why Voters Respond Primarily to the Election-Year Economy. American Journal of Political Science, 58(1): 3147.
Henry, P. J., and Sears, David O. (2002). The Symbolic Racism 2000 Scale. Political Psychology, 23(2): 253283.
Henry, P. J, and Sears, David O. (2009). “The Crystallization of Contemporary Racial Prejudice across the Lifespan. Political Psychology. 30(4): 569590.
Hochschild, Arlie Russell (2016). Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New York: The New Press.
Hughes, Michael (1997). Symbolic Racism, Old-Fashioned Racism, and Whites’ Opposition to Affirmative Action. In Tuch, S. A., and Martin, J. K. (Eds.), Racial Attitudes in the 1990s: Continuity and Change, pp. 4575. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Hutchings, Vincent L., and Wong, Cara (2014). Racism, Group Position, and Attitudes about Immigration among Blacks and Whites. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 11(2): 419442.
Kinder, Donald R., and Sanders, Lynn M. (1996). Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Kinder, Donald R., and Sears, David O. (1981). Prejudice and Politics: Symbolic Racism Versus Racial Threats to the Good Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40(3): 414431.
Kreuter, Frauke, Presser, Stanley, and Tourangeau, Roger (2008). Social Desirability Bias in CATI, IVR, and Web Surveys. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72(5): 847865.
Krysan, Maria (1998). Privacy and the Expression of White Racial Attitudes: A Comparison Across Three Contexts. Public Opinion Quarterly, 62(4): 506544.
Krysan, Maria (1999). Qualifying a Quantifying Analysis on Racial Equality. Social Psychology Quarterly, 62(2): 211218.
Krysan, Maria (2000). Prejudice, Politics, and Public Opinion: Understanding the Sources of Racial Policy Attitudes. Annual Review of Sociology, 26(1): 135168.
Markus, Greg (1990). Measuring Popular Individualism: Memo to ANES Board of Overseers Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research. <> (accessed August 8, 2016).
McConahay, J. B. (1986). Modern Racism, Ambivalence, and the Modern Racism Scale. In Dovidio, J. F., and Gaertner, S. L. (Eds.), Prejudice, Discrimination and Racism, pp. 91126. New York: Academic Press.
McEntire, Kyla Jo, Leiby, Michele, and Krain, Matthew (2015). Human Rights Organizations as Agents of Change: An Experimental Examination of Framing and Micromobilization. American Political Science Review, 109(3): 407426.
Mendelberg, Tali (2001). The Race Card: Campaign Strategy, Implicit Messages, and the Norm of Equality. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Norton, Michael I., and Sommers, Samuel R. (2011). Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game That They Are Now Losing. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(3): 215218.
Pedulla, David S., and Thébaud, Sarah (2015). Can We Finish the Revolution? Gender, Work-Family Ideals, and Institutional Constraint. American Journal of Sociology, 80(1): 116139.
Pew Research Center (2017). Most Americans Say Trump’s Election Has Led to Worse Race Relations in the U.S. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. <–2017–race-relations-release.pdf> (accessed May 21, 2018).
Ridgeway, Cecilia L. (2013). Why Status Matters for Inequality. American Sociological Review, 79(1): 116.
Rosenzweig, Emily, and Gilovich, Thomas (2012). Buyer’s Remorse or Missed Opportunity? Differential Regrets for Material and Experiential Purchases. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102(2): 215223.
Samson, Frank L. (2015). Asian American Attitudes towards a U.S. Citizenship Path for Illegal Immigrants: Immigration Reform as Racialised Politics. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41(1): 117137.
Saperstein, Aliya, Penner, Andrew, and Light, Ryan (2013). Racial Formation in Perspective: Connecting Individuals, Institutions, and Power Relations. Annual Review of Sociology, 39: 359378.
Schuman, Howard (2000). The Perils of Correlation, the Lure of Labels, and the Beauty of Negative Results. In Sears, D. O., Sidanius, J., and Bobo, L. D. (Eds.), Racialized Politics: The Debate about Racism in America, pp. 302323. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Schuman, Howard, Steeh, Charlotte, Bobo, Lawrence D., and Krysan, Maria (1997). Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sears, David O. (1988). Symbolic Racism. In Katz, P. A., and Taylor, D. A. (Eds.), Eliminating Racism: Profiles in Controversy, pp. 5384. New York: Plenum Press.
Sears, David. O., and Henry, P. J. (2005). Over Thirty Years Later: A Contemporary Look at Symbolic Racism. In Zanna, M. P. (Ed.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, pp. 95150. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.
Sidanius, Jim, Devereux, Erik, and Pratto, Felicia (1992). A Comparison of Symbolic Racism Theory and Social Dominance Theory as Explanations for Racial Policy Attitudes. Journal of Social Psychology, 32: 377395.
Simmons, Alicia D., and Bobo, Lawrence D. (2015). Can Non-Full-Probability Internet Surveys Yield Useful Data? A Comparison with Full-Probability Face-to-Face Surveys in the Domain of Race and Social Inequality Attitudes. Sociological Methodology, 45(1): 131.
Smith, A. Wade (1981). Racial Tolerance as a Function of Group Position. American Sociological Review, 46(5): 558573.
Smith, Eliot R. (1993). Social Identity and Social Emotions: Towards New Conceptualizations of Prejudice. In Mackie, D., and Hamilton, D. L. (Eds.), Affect, Cognition, and Stereotyping, pp. 239313 . San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Smith, Rogers M. (1993). Beyond Tocqueville, Myrdal, and Hartz: The Multiple Traditions in America. American Political Science Review, 87(3): 549566.
Sniderman, Paul M., Crosby, Gretchen C., and Howell, William G. (2000). The Politics of Race. In Sears, D. O., Sidanius, J., and Bobo, L. D. (Eds.), Racialized Politics: The Debate about Racism in America, pp. 236279. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Sniderman, Paul M., and Carmines, Edward G. (1997). Reaching Beyond Race. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Sniderman, Paul M., and Tetlock, Philip E. (1986). Symbolic Racism: Problems of Motive Attribution in Political Analysis. Journal of Social Issues, 42(2): 129150.
Tuch, Steven A., and Hughes, Michael (1996). Whites’ Racial Policy Attitudes. Social Science Quarterly, 77(4): 723745.
Tuch, Steven A., and Hughes, Michael (2011). Whites’ Racial Policy Attitudes in the Twenty-First Century: The Continuing Significance of Racial Resentment. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 634(1): 134152.
Valentino, Nicholas A., Neuner, Fabian G., and Matthew Vandenbroek, L. (2017). The Changing Norms of Racial Political Rhetoric and the End of Racial Priming. Journal of Politics, 80(3): 757771.
Vavreck, Lynn, and Iyengar, Shanto (2013). The Future of Political Communication Research. In Shapiro, R. Y., and Jacobs, L. R. (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of American Public Opinion and the Media, pp. 156168. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Wellman, David T. (1977). Portraits of White Racism. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Williams, David R., Jackson, James S., Brown, Tony N., Forman, Tyrone A., Torres, Myriam, and Brown, Kendrick T. (2000). Traditional and Contemporary Prejudice and Urban Whites’ Support for Affirmative Action and Government Help. Social Problems, 46(4): 503527.
Wilson, David C., and Davis, Darren W. (2011). Reexamining Racial Resentment: Conceptualization and Content. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 634(1): 117133.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
  • URL: /core/journals/du-bois-review-social-science-research-on-race
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed