I am in the midst of a new empirical project, funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, that seeks to understand how Americans explain social inequality, and how these explanations are connected to their political opinions. My main interest is in the belief that socioeconomic inequality is innate and immutable; however, I also explore other common explanations for difference, including culture, discrimination, education inequity, and individual choice (or "free will").
The project has two major phases. The first phase is a large representative survey (N=2,000, carried out in Fall 2016 as a part of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study) that asks Americans to offer their explanations for both objective differences (income inequality; different rates of incarceration) as well as perceived differences (intelligence, drive to succeed) between individuals and groups. With these data, I hope to understand how these beliefs are connected to political views (for example, are conservatives more or less likely to draw on biological explanations for inequality than liberals?) as well as examine whether individuals who are members of societally dominant groups are more likely than others to employ explanations for inequality that blame individuals for inequality, relieve society of responsibility for solving inequality, and/or render inequality permanent. The second phase of the project consists of two experiments that aim to get at why certain explanations for inequality are linked to political attitudes and dominant group status. Do people first develop general factual beliefs about who is responsible for inequality and then form their political attitudes in accordance, or is the link between explanations and attitudes the result of elite cues or "backwards" motivated reasoning? If motivated reasoning occurs, what is the motivation--ideology, social identity, or self-interest?
This project will eventually be a book manuscript, tentatively titled How Americans Explain Inequality, and Why It Matters.