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The Evolution and Implications of Perceptions of Barack Obama's Ideological Positioning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2020

Matthew L. Jacobsmeier*
West Virginia University
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Matthew L. Jacobsmeier, West Virginia University, P.O. Box 6317, Morgantown, WV26506. E-mail:
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I examine perceptions of Barack Obama's ideological positioning from 2006 to 2016. White Americans perceived Barack Obama to be significantly more liberal than respondents from other racial groups, and whites scoring higher on measures of racial resentment saw Obama as more liberal than those scoring lower. Perceptions of Barack Obama's ideological positioning shifted leftward early in his presidency but shifted rightward after 2010. This rightward shift notwithstanding, Obama was perceived to be quite liberal from the start of his presidency, and perceptions of his ideological positioning were racialized from the beginning. There is some evidence that citizens' perceptions of Barack Obama's ideological positioning became more racialized between 2012 and 2014. Placements of Hillary Clinton were racialized in 2016, suggesting that the Obama presidency may have lasting effects on the ideological stereotyping of Democratic candidates. I discuss these findings in light of recent research on social sorting, affective polarization, and negative partisanship.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

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