Study: President Obama’s Skin Darkened In GOP Ads To Appeal To Voters With Racial Bias

December 30, 2015  |  


We, at Mizzou, had a class in journalism school called Cross-Cultural Journalism. The whole point of it was to show students the right and wrong ways media cover an array of “ethnic, gender, ability and ideological groups inside and outside the United States.” One thing we learned is that if you want to appeal to the racial biases of people when reporting on a person of color, you make images of them darker, so they appear more menacing, and therefore, guilty. It’s what Time was accused of doing when they admitted that they darkened O.J. Simpson’s face in 1994 for their cover, blaming it on stressed staff working on tight deadlines.

But such methods have also been used to appeal to those who hold fast to stereotypes of people of color during political campaigns. It was done by John McCain’s campaign in 2008 according to a study done by Solomon Messing of the Pew Research Center, Maria Jabon of LinkedIn, and Ethan Plaut, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford. The study is called Bias in the Flesh: Skin Complexion and Stereotype Consistency in Political Campaigns.

As pointed out by Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post when speaking on the study, in negative attack ads constructed by the McCain campaign, President Obama’s image was darkened, manipulated for a more dramatic effect. Researchers found that “as the election approached, images of Obama in spots aired by McCain’s campaign became gradually darker. Images of McCain campaign’s own candidate, meanwhile, became somewhat lighter.”

The study’s researchers determined that the darker the images of President Obama, the more it still affects the way people view him. They manipulated his skin tone to measure the stereotypes of subjects tested. They showed them images and asked them to play a fill-in-the-blank game where they were given words like “CR___” and “LA__.” While one subject might write “CROWD,” another might write “CRIME.” And the “LA__” might turn into “LAZY.” So what did they find? According to the Washington Post:



“Those who saw the image of Obama with light skin gave that word or another anti-black stereotype as a response 33 percent of the time. Among those who saw the darkened image, the figure was 45 percent, showing that they were more likely to have those negative stereotypes on their minds after seeing the photograph.”

Solomon Messing, Maria Jabon and Ethan Plaut

So, in the same way the darker photographs might make someone think of a negative stereotype of President Obama, the ads likely had a similar effect. Such attempts to appeal to racial biases are quite common in politics.

As pointed out, once again, by the Washington Post, “To hear their opponents tell it, when Republican politicians say they oppose a generous welfare system, they really mean black beneficiaries are lazy. If they endorse strict immigration enforcement, they really mean that Latinos are criminals, critics say.”

This idea of appealing to one group of voters while tearing down another has been debated when speaking on the current political campaign of a one Donald Trump. From the way he speaks of Latinos, Blacks, and Muslims, and seeing his lead in the polls for Republican candidates, it’s clear that the more abrasive, a.k.a., racist the rhetoric at times, the more it appeals to some (a.k.a., racists…). But of course, they call such speech failing to be “politically correct.”

Check out this ad from the 2008 campaign linking President Obama to Bill Ayers and see if you notice a darker POTUS:



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  • Masterpieced

    He won… So, maybe folk like the darker skin….

    Y;all DO know that we only make up 14% in the USA. WE did not elect him alone…..

  • Guest

    President Obama looks better darker. He looks sickly in the lighter picture. He looks a lot healthier and fit in the darker one.

  • Flatroader

    He just laying on the beach in Hawaii ….wouldn’t you ‘spect him to be darker?

  • Da Black Capitalist

    Ironic given they were saying he wasn’t black enough during the 2008 election.

  • Sally

    Most people who voted for Obama – including some Republicans and libertarians – Voted for him BECAUSE he was black. They admitted it! But most people who voted against him did so because of his policies. As they admitted.

    I find it ironic that those in the Left constantly accuse the Right of being racist. But it is the Left who reject black conservatives and libertarians as being Uncle Toms, not black enough, not really black, and brainwashed by their white masters. Apparently, the Left thinks blacks are incapable of forming their own opinions. That’s the real racism.

    Take the log out of your own eye, so you can see better to help your brother take the speck out of his eye.

    • Guest

      Lol! Your comment says the Right is not racist at all. I mean, can’t understand why the Right is constantly being accused of being racist after reading your post!?


      • Sally

        Maybe you should actually read what I wrote. Try again.

        • Guest

          Lol! Sweetheart maybe you should actually read what you wrote. If you don’t get it, I can’t help you. So try again.

          Truly hilarious!!

          • Sally

            Public school. Obviously.

            • Guest

              And no school. Obviously.

              • Sally

                You’re right – you really shouldn’t have ditched class.

                • Guest

                  You’re right–You really should try a little harder.

    • PeoplePlease7

      How any ethnic group can’t collectively understand that the left/right duopoly is a charade given both their track records is a shame. Democrats just play the race game better. Politicians and their parties are groups of people you rent and hire to do your bidding, not pledge blind allegiance to. Ron Paul (Libertarian) is about the closest we came to true change.

    • Guest1205

      Sally, you do not give black people any credit for critical thinking skills. For example, I don’t support Ben Carson because I dislike his policies. I am pro-choice, pro-separation of church and state, and pro-gun control. Why would I ever vote for him? Or most Republican candidates?

      The fact that you think that most voted for Obama because of his skin color stongly suggests that you believe that people can’t see beyond race in their decision making. This, too, demonstrates a lack of belief that people can be analytical.

      You are the one who thinks that blacks are incapable of forming their own opinions.

      • Sally

        So tell me why is it that liberals/progressives punish blacks for straying outside of the Democrat plantation? There is no other ethnic group in America that is expected to hold any one set of political viewpoints. No other ethnic group in America votes for one party in numbers approaching 90%.

        • Guest1205

          You have completely missed my point!, and I think that it is because you want to. There is a reason that African Americans overwhelmingly vote Democratic and it has nothing to do with a “plantation.” You reveal a lot through your choice of words. LOL.

          What you call “punishement” is disagreement. Simple as that.

          Why didn’t you answer my original question to you? Please do. Why would I, given my political convictions, ever want to vote for someone like Ben Carson?
          I’m waiting………..

        • Masterpieced

          And they take our vote for granted. Notice no one is taking about us, all the talk is about illegals’ rights and struggles.

      • Masterpieced

        At one time in the USA ONLY whites could be President. So in theory they were ALL voted in due to race…..

        BUT, I would have supported Ben Carson, Obama, Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisolm due to race. WHITE folk started it when they only allowed whites to run since day 1.

        No one is telling women to NOT vote for Hillary just because she is female. They are SCREAMING–that it is time for a female president. My question, why does the first female president have to be white?

        • Sally

          More importantly, why does the first female president have to be Hillary??

      • Sally

        So you’re saying the very people documented on video and in print that they voted for Obama because he was black, lied? I take them at their word, why don’t you?

        I think anyone can make up their own mind – I think anyone can practice critical thinking skills. it’s liberals who don’t want blacks to think for themselves. That’s the implications of leftist pressure on blacks not to buck the liberal apple cart.

        You tell me why liberal blacks demonize blacks who dare to express other opinions (e.g., “Uncle Tom,” “not black enough,” “self hating,” “an embarrassment to their race,” “they should just kill themselves,” etc.)? Why?

        Conservatives, libertarians, and independents wouldn’t dare to try to control the political views of any group. But apparently that’s OK on the left – hence, the liberal plantation metaphor. Black slaves were forced to stay on the slave plantation. Blacks today are forced to stay on the Left’s plantation.

    • Courtney Banks

      Yeah, when Mitt slogan was “make the white house white again”, and people actually bought that.. But I’m sure it was ALL just policies…

      • Sally

        You probably shouldn’t depend on comedians for your news. Romney’s slogan was “Believe in America.”

  • themeowster

    why are you talking about this like it happened this year when it actually happened 7 years ago? lol

    • Masterpieced

      I too wonder why now?

  • honeybee808

    tl;dr, but lightening his skin doesn’t make his features any less african. and as i much as i can’t stand this constant talk about skin color, there’s not that much of a difference to me. either photos could have happened depending on the lighting or a tan. it’s not like they made him idris’ color.

    sigh…i’m so tired of this. unless you have european features and can “pass” for white, black is black IS black to non-white people, no matter where you fall on the black skin tone color spectrum.