SHOW US THAT YOU CARE: HOW COMMUNITY COMMITMENT SIGNALS AFFECT BLACK POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS

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2018

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Abstract

Extant literature shows that many black Americans use their racial identity as a lens by which to view the political world. What remains unclear is why and how black Americans choose certain black Democratic candidates to support over other black Democratic candidates. In this dissertation, I introduce the community commitment signaling framework to explain why black voters find certain black politicians more preferable than others. My argument is that blacks support black candidates who signals communicates a higher level of social accountability to the racial group and its goal for greater political inclusion. Using experimental methods, I examine whether a black politician's signaling of community commitment affects how he is evaluated by black individuals. Chapter 2 details the community commitment signaling framework, and discusses how community commitment signals communicate different levels of social accountability, and thus affects the political behavior and attitudes of black voters. In chapter 3, I use an experimental test to investigate how black individuals evaluate black candidate based on the kind of community commitment signal he employs. Chapters 4 and 5 employ also similar experimental tests to show how community commitment signals work when a candidate's accountability is called into question by an opponent as is often the case in electoral contests. Chapter 4 explores black attitudes and behaviors when two black Democratic candidates run against one another, while chapter 5's experimental test investigates how black respondents respond when a white candidate displays some sense of community commitment. In both chapters when a candidate's signal involves a physical sacrifice made for the racial group, he receives the most positive evaluations. Finally, in chapter 6, I discuss the implications of my results, and offer some sense of future directions this line of inquiry offers. Past frameworks have placed a strong focus on race's role in black politics without much engagement of the sophistication with which blacks are holding co-racial candidates accountable to the group's political goals. This dissertation remedies these oversights, and offers new insights into how and why black voters choose certain candidates over others.

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