The Trump Effect: Experimental Investigation into the Emboldening Effect


This article explores the effect of explicitly racial and inflammatory speech by political elites on mass citizens in a societal context where equality norms are widespread and generally heeded yet a subset of citizens nonetheless possess deeply ingrained racial prejudices. We argue that such speech should have an “emboldening effect” among the prejudiced, particularly where such speech goes without clear and strong condemnation by other elite political actors. To test this, we focus on the case of the Trump campaign for President in the United States, and utilize a survey experiment embedded within an online panel study. Our results demonstrate that in the absence of prejudiced elite speech, prejudiced citizens constrain the expression of their prejudice; however, in the presence of prejudiced elite speech—particularly when such speech is tacitly condoned by other elites—we find that the prejudiced are emboldened to both express and act upon their prejudices.

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