ISR Awards

Changes in Public Opinion About Race and Gender Before & After the Advent of Surveys: Further Steps

Project Summary

In the mid-1940s, some surveys began to gather trend data on white American attitudes toward black Americans, reported in summary form in a single volume by the applicant. Thus we have evidence over the past 70 years in this important area of expanded rights in the United States?a change that started with race but eventually included a number of other minorities?what has been called the ?Rights Revolution.?

But what happened prior to the mid-1940s? Our first research goal is to investigate this question by means of systematic content analysis of important newspapers and periodicals from 1930 until 1946?the latter date the first year when even minimal national trend survey data became available on white racial attitudes. We have developed an extensive and complex set of codes, and have begun systematic content analysis of random samples of relevant articles from important newspapers in order to determine what, if any, changes were occurring that reflected or influenced white racial attitudes.

Our second research goal is theoretical and methodological, and centers on the years from 1946 and the late 1960s. For these years, unlike the earlier 1930 to 1946 period, we can compare results of the content analysis with results based on repeated national surveys, thus helping to evaluate indirectly the contribution of the content analysis for understanding attitudes between the earlier 1930 to 1946 period, as well as for other purposes. Our initial findings after just three months of our current one year grant, provides promising evidence of considerable change, for example, a statistically significant increase in the stories about black accomplishments as against reports of alleged black crimes. In succeeding month of our present one year grant and of a new grant, we expect to develop and examine critically further evidence on both early and more recent change.

In terms of its broader impact, first, the research should increase understanding of attitudes toward minorities during the Depression and World War II years. Second, the research will help to assess the value of content analysis of mass media for identifying attitudinal trends among the general public. The attempt to compare systematically two very different types of social science data should yield insight into the advantages and limitations of each, and contribute to an understanding of whether and how content analysis can shed light on attitudes when trustworthy survey data are not available.