The Scar of Race

In THE SCAR OF RACE, Paul M. Sniderman, a political science professor at Stanford University, and Thomas Piazza, a survey research specialist at the University of California, Berkeley, attempt to provide a concise portrait of American public opinion on issues of race. Using five major polls (three national, two regional in scope) and highly innovative, computer-guided questioning strategies, the authors confirm the impression of many observers that American attitudes on race—once as simple as whether one was for or against civil rights—have become disconcertedly diverse and complex.

Some of the study’s principal findings are: 1) that attitudes vary according to the particular race-related issue, 2) that current strains of racism remain antithetical to core American values, 3) that conservative critics of policies designed to bring about racial equality are responding to their principles rather than to racial prejudice, 4) that education is positively correlated with racial tolerance, and 5) that the attitudes of white Americans on race are surprisingly malleable.

This book is not without flaws. Despite all the helpful tables and graphs, its academic style often bogs down. In addition, there are methodological difficulties. Variables are sometimes measured in a way that is less than precise and conclusions sometimes call for more than a short leap of faith. On the other hand, Sniderman and Piazza are admirably open about their methods and give readers a good chance to look at their claims critically. All in all, this is an important and surprisingly accessible work.