Report: Race helps drive healthcare debate

In a report that’s likely to raise a lot of hackles, the Berkeley-based Greenlining Institute – which advocates for communities of color – has concluded that there’s “a startling racial dimension to the ongoing debate about efforts to repeal or de-fund the national healthcare reform law enacted last year.”

“Race seems to be the big, unmentioned elephant in the room in the healthcare debate,” Greenlining Institute Research Director Daniel Byrd said in a news release. “Not only are blacks, Latinos, and other people of color more likely than whites to support the healthcare law, whites who show evidence of bias – what social scientists call ‘racial resentment’ – are more likely to oppose it than whites who aren’t racially resentful.”

To be clear: They do not conclude that all who oppose the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 are racists.

Byrd, along with Greenlining Health Program Managers Carla Saporta and Rosa Martinez, based their report upon data from the summer 2010 Panel Recontact wave of the 2008-2009 American National Election Studies, a survey conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Stanford University that’s widely used by social scientists studying political behavior.

In the survey, 38.4 percent of whites supported the healthcare law, compared to 78.6 percent of blacks, 52.6 percent of Latinos and 43.6 of people from other racial groups. Although the researchers concluded there’s not enough data in the ANES survey to determine why that’s so, it’s not terribly surprising, given the undisputed health-care disparities that exist in America today: people of color are more likely to be uninsured and have higher rates of various ailments compared to whites. Put simply, whites generally tend to already be better off in terms of health care.

But the bias element is something else entirely. The Greenlining people concluded that “racially resentful whites were less likely to support the law than non-resentful whites, even after controlling for such factors as income, age, educational attainment, employment status, political ideology, and whether or not the respondent had health insurance.”

The ANES determines “racial resentment” by seeking responses to these statements:

    1. “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”
    2. “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Blacks to work their way out of the lower class.”
    3. “Over the past few years, Blacks have gotten less then they deserve.”
    4. “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if Blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as Whites.”

The Greenlining researchers found that whites who rate low in racial resentment according to the ANES tend to link their support of the health care reforms to their support of President Barack Obama – if they like the President, they’re more likely to like the law.

“In contrast, for whites high in racial resentment, Obama is not a factor in their attitudes towards the health care reform law. Instead their attitude towards blacks as a group, specifically the belief that blacks do not work hard, is related to their attitude towards the recently passed health care reform law,” they wrote. “Whites who are more racially resentful are less likely to support the health care reform law when compared to whites who are not racially resentful.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Val Eisman

    Many unions opposed Obamacare initially and still don’t feel it’s a good bill for their membership. Many of these unions have both white and black membership. The issues the unions had with Obama’s bill had nothing to do with the fact that it serviced people of color. It was that the bill was watering down the medical benefits of union members who had given up concessions and wage increases to get better healthcare benefits while asking union members to pay more for their plans.

    I’m wondering if this Greenlining insitute didn’t ask leading questions of race to begin with which tainted their findings instead of delving directly into people’s opposition to Obamacare. The article doesn’t explain the methodology of their survey and is highly suspect in my opinion. Because it appears from the survey that it is the Institute that is introducing the idea of race into all of this. Many people opposed Obama’s healthcare strictly because it required mandatory healthcare coverage that most minimum wage and low wage workers simply cannot afford.

    This article really goes off the central issues of why there was widespread opposition even amongst progressives to Obama’s bill. It does absolutely nothing to cap healthcare premiums nor address the failures of the big HMO’s in terms of the quality of their healthcare. It maintains high drug prices while creating a monopoly for big pharmaceutical here at home by continuing to deny Americans access to foreign drugs from abroad.

    This survey, IMO, was a loaded question and survey from the gitgo. They just wanted to introduce race into a subject that is more important and has less to do with race than any lack of real reform of the healthcare industry. This kind of article is typical of what you find in the Tribune where everything is always about race and black people and never about the larger picture. If anything, this article promotes the very thing it ostensibly abhors by constantly keeping the race pot churning even when larger issues totally outweigh the consideration of race in the matter. By continuing to focus in on the nonimportant elements of healthcare rather than doing an article on Vermont’s efforts to implement singlepayer now, you do a disserve to those you are supposedly championing–all those racially oppressed minorities who neither follow nor pay attention to the ongoing issues in the struggle to create affordable healthcare for all.

  • Josh Richman

    Val: Though I disagree with your characterization of the Tribune as “where everything is always about race and black people and never about the larger picture,” I take your point about how some people opposed the Affordable Care Act because it didn’t go far enough and/or because of the individual mandate’s burden upon the working class. That said, the more vocal majority of the law’s opponents – those who now are spearheading its repeal – overwhelmingly are conservatives who believe the government should have less or no role in health care.

    As for the methodology, I linked to the report so everyone could review and judge it for themselves. But whatever you make of their statistical analysis, they didn’t “ask leading questions” because they didn’t ask questions at all; their report is based on correlations they say they found in data gathered by a widely used and well-respected national academic study.

  • John W

    I’m one who supported the legislation and see it as an imperfect bill that should be improved upon, not trashed. And, yes, I’m an Obama supporter. But there is some tortured logic here. It does not necessarily follow that because one is both (a) white and racially resentful and (b)vocally opposed to the health care law that “a” and “b” are related. For example, we wouldn’t conclude that opposition to the health care law influences their racial resentment. So, it does not necessarily follow that their racial resentment influences their beliefs about health care. That said, had Mitt Romney been nominated and elected in 2008 and proposed some form of RomneyCare for the nation, I suspect we would have seen an entirely different response.