The survey, which was conducted by Lake Research Partners in collaboration with ASO Communications and Brilliant Corners Research & Strategies, tested a set of 11 “race-class narratives” with 1,500 American adults nationwide, plus oversamples of 100 African Americans, 100 Latinos, 100 millennials, 100 drop-off voters, and 100 unlikely voters. They also did separate testing in Indiana, California, Minnesota, and Ohio. In an 18-minute online survey, respondents listened to each of the narratives and used a slider to indicate how they felt about it: If they liked what was being said, they moved the slider to the right, for a rating higher than 50. They dragged it left when they didn’t, for a rating lower than 50.
Before the test, people were asked a series of attitudinal questions, which sorted them into groups—base voters, persuadables, and opposition—based on their responses. Base voters generally believe that too little attention is paid to racial issues and that government should create opportunities for advancement, while opposition mostly thinks there is too much attention paid to race and that government should get out of the way. The study defined persuadables as people who seemed to hold competing views on race: A majority of those people said that “focusing on race doesn’t fix anything” while also saying “focusing on race is necessary to move forward.” Basically, they’re people who could be motivated by a progressive message.
In one question, the team tested three short messages against one another: First, the “opposition” message: “To make life better for working people we need to cut taxes, reduce regulations, and get government out of the way of business.” Second, a “colorblind” message that didn’t explicitly mention race: “To make life better for working people we need to invest in education, create better paying jobs, and make healthcare more affordable for people struggling to make ends meet.” The third message replicated the second one, but replaced people with “white, Black and brown people.”
The third message, with its explicit language, did best, earning a net-positive slider rating of 83 from the base, and 41 from persuadables. The “colorblind” message, on the other hand, received a net rating of 80 from the base, and 33 from persuadables.
For many activists, this is just what they wanted to hear. Camille Rivera, the national political and legislative director for the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store International Union, said she’s seen this in action as a progressive organizer. Black, Latino, and white people are all united by class and economic issues, she told me, and in her experience, stressing that they’re all “suffering under the same kind of economic instability” moves voters.
Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, the vice president for social policy and politics at Third Way, a think tank advocating for center-left ideas, found the study helpful for her own work. “I love the addition of white, black, and brown into different messages,” she said, because “one of the things we’re struggling with is, how do you have a message that’s universal without making it sound like you’re going back to just old white guys?”