Raphael Warnock’s dog commercial cuts against the stereotypes of white voters of blacks
If he wins next month, Raphael Warnock may have his pet beagle to thank.
So far, Warnock, the Democratic candidate in one of Georgia’s two Senate elections, has shown two ads with his dog. In the first, he uses his cuddly dog to forestall negative GOP attacks against him – attacks that have attempted to portray him as an ideological extremist and to tie him to left-wing black activists.
Get ready Georgia. The negative ads come against us.
But that will not stop us from fighting for a better future for the Georgians and focusing on the important issues. pic.twitter.com/VN0YIA02MG
– Reverend Raphael Warnock (@ReverendWarnock) November 5, 2020
In the second ad, the puppy plays an even more prominent role, in which Warnock leads his dog through a suburb with a poop bag in hand and at the same time denounces the “smear ads” by Republican Kelly Loeffler against him.
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“I think Georgians will see their ads for what they are – don’t they?” He asks as he throws the poop bag in the trash. The beagle barks in agreement and licks its owner’s face.
These ads were hailed as cute, humorous, and clever. And the two spots went viral, generating nearly nine million views, while Warnock’s dog-oriented tweets garnered over half a million likes on Twitter in November. The campaign even benefited from the pooch by selling “Puppies for Warnock” merchandise.
But some close observers of race and politics have noted that there’s a lot more to this than just a bewitching campaign. They argue that these ads are carefully crafted attempts to neutralize racial stereotypes that Warnock countered in his attempt to become Georgia’s first African American Senator.
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Hakeem Jefferson, a Stanford professor and FiveThirtyEight employee, tweeted, “This ad makes a big difference. It is obvious[iously] cute, but it’s also meant to de-facialize Warnock with that cute, ‘white people-friendly’ pooch. “Fordham University political scientist and MSNBC staffer Christina Greer tweeted similarly,” This ad will be in classes for years to come Racial politics … And Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times agreed and tweeted in response to Greer’s comments, “Yep. The setting, Warnock’s outfit, even the breed of dog send a certain message. “
But why is Warnock’s pet beagle considered a “white pooch”? And could his choice of pet have an impact on his choice strategy?
Well, for starters, there is a huge breed difference in dog ownership. A 2006 poll by Pew Research found that 45 percent of white Americans owned a dog, compared with just 20 percent of African Americans. And the way pet ownership is portrayed in popular culture further exacerbates this divide in the minds of the public. In their classic 1990s study of media and race, “Black Image in the White Mind,” Robert Entman and Andrew Rojecki found no prime-time commercials with African American pet owners. “In the world of television advertising,” suggested Entman and Rojecki, “whites are those who occupy the realm of ideal humanity, warmth and connectedness, which is occasionally symbolized by their love for their pets.” That is one of the reasons why Why Warnock’s Ads Are So Effective: They go straight against this stereotype and feature an affectionate black dog owner who specifically says he loves puppies.
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However, as the tweets above suggest, Warnock’s dog breed does a lot of work to counter negative racial stereotypes about dog ownership. Take, for example, what my colleague Mary McThomas of the University of California at Irvine and I found while researching dog ownership: When we asked people which breeds of dogs they thought white and black people would be more likely to own, the majority suspected, that black owned rottweilers and pit bulls while whites owned golden retrievers, collies, labradors, and dalmatians.
It is also no accident that the two breeds of dogs stereotyped as being owned by blacks are also the two breeds that generate the most fear in public. Over 40 percent of respondents in a Lucid survey we conducted in 2018 said that “scary” Pitbulls and Rottweilers are described as “extreme” or “very good” (46 and 41 percent, respectively). But only about 10 percent said the same thing about golden retrievers, collies, dalmatians, and labradors. (These four breeds were also all rated at least 15 percentage points cheaper than Rottweilers and Pitbulls in our 2020 surveys.)
Unfortunately, we didn’t specifically ask about Beagles in our surveys, but the comment on Warnock’s Ads argues that Beagles are an exact fit with the popular and accessible dog breeds that Americans generally associate with whites. This is why the breed of Warnock’s dog is so important as it presents itself to voters. As Jefferson noted on Twitter, can Warnock’s Beagle be thought of as attempting to convey a certain “white-friendly” message to voters, such as “How can I be the creepy (black) guy she portrays” with such a dog? ?
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Of course, it cannot be said whether this was the intention behind Warnock’s dog advertising. Political science research has shown, however, that African American candidates often attempt to employ such demassification strategies to protect themselves from widespread stereotypes about black political leadership – stereotypes that tend to portray African American politicians as radical extremists who govern solely for the benefit of black interests the cost of the whites.
This is arguably all the more important in a campaign in which Republicans have made explicit attempts to associate Warnock with black radicalism – especially considering that this is a southern state where white voters are still predominantly Republican. (Stacey Abrams only won a quarter of the white votes on her lost bid in 2018 to become Georgia’s first African-American governor.) But it’s unclear how much of that had to do with Trump, and how much it was a sign of more permanent change in Georgian politics could have been. Warnock’s dog advertising can well be viewed as a dog whistle for voters who have ongoing concerns about black political leadership.
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