Political Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 3, September 2003 ( 2003)
RACE, SOPHISTICATION, AND WHITE
OPINION ON GOVERNMENT SPENDING
The conventional wisdom in public opinion research suggests that the white public
views government spending as a single race-coded issue. This article develops an alter-
native theory that rests on two propositions. First, the white public sees government
spending not as a single issue, but rather, as two distinct issues: spending on the de-
serving poor and spending on the undeserving poor. Second, political sophistication
strengthens the impact racial stereotypes have on attitudes toward spending on the
undeserving poor, and it does not affect the relationship between stereotypes and
attitudes toward spending on the deserving poor. These hypotheses are tested using
data from the 1996 and 1992 NES surveys. The empirical results provide strong sup-
port for both propositions.
Key words: government spending; deserving poor; undeserving poor; political sophis-
tication; racial stereotypes.
Should the U.S. government expand or contract the welfare state? Few
questions have generated as much conflict among partisan and ideological
elites over the past several decades. In light of this, scholars have devoted a
great deal of attention to understanding the nature and origins of public opin-
ion on government spending. This body of work suggests that, for most peo-
ple, the issue revolves around the simple question of whether the federal
government should spend more or less on programs to help the poor and the
needy (Jacoby, 1994, 2000), that whites who evaluate blacks negatively are
more opposed to spending than those who evaluate blacks positively (Gilens,
1995, 1996a, 1999; Jacoby, 1994, 2000; Kinder and Mendelberg, 2000; Kinder
and Sanders, 1996), and that political sophistication does not condition the
impact racial beliefs have on spending attitudes. In short, the consensus view
holds that the public sees government spending as a single race-coded issue.
Paul Goren, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Arizona State University,
Tempe, AZ 85287-3902 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
0190-9320/03/0900-0201/0 2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation