The politics of identity: The unexpected role of political orientation on racial categorizations of Kamala Harris
The 2020 US Presidential election was historic in that it featured the first woman of color, Kamala Harris, on a major-party ticket. Although Harris identifies as Black, her racial identity was widely scrutinized throughout the election, due to her mixed-race ancestry. Moreover, media coverage of Harris's racial identity appeared to vary based on that news outlet's political leaning and sometimes had prejudicial undertones. The current research investigated racial categorization of Harris and the role that political orientation and anti-Black prejudice might play in shaping these categorizations. Studies 1 and 2 tested the possibility that conservatives and liberals might mentally represent Harris differently, which we hypothesized would lead the two groups to differ in how they categorized her race. Contrary to our prediction, conservatives, and liberals mentally represented Harris similarly. Also surprising were the explicit racial categorization data. Conservatives labeled Harris as White more than liberals, who tended to categorize Harris as multiracial. This pattern was explained by anti-Black prejudice. Study 3 examined a potential political motivation that might explain this finding. We found that conservatives, more than liberals, judge having a non-White candidate on a Democratic ballot as an asset, which may lead conservatives to deny non-White candidates these identities.