Russel lecturer Donald Kinder to address democracy and prejudice


University of Michigan psychology and political science professor Donald Kinder has closely studied the work of a Swedish economist who wrote decades ago about the struggle between democratic principles and racial prejudice.

Kinder will offer new insights on those topics through a contemporary lens during the 97th Henry Russel Lecture. The event will be from 4:30-5:30 p.m. March 14 in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union and also streamed online.

The Henry Russel Lectureship is the university’s highest honor for senior members of its active faculty. It is awarded annually to a faculty member who has had exceptional achievement in research, scholarship or creative endeavors, as well as an outstanding record of distinguished teaching, mentoring and service to U-M and the wider community.

Four faculty members will receive Henry Russel Awards, the university’s highest honor for early to mid-career faculty, at the event. They are:

  • Shanna Daly, associate professor of mechanical engineering, College of Engineering.
  • Roshanak Mehdipanah, assistant professor of health behavior and health education, School of Public Health.
  • Tiffany Ng, associate professor of music, School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
  • LaKisha Simmons, associate professor of women’s and gender studies, and of history, LSA.

Kinder is the Philip E. Converse Distinguished University Professor of Political Science, professor of political science and of psychology in LSA, and a research professor in the Center for Political Studies at the Institute for Social Research. His lecture is titled “Myrdal’s Prediction: Prejudice and Principles in American Political Life.”

Photo of Donald Kinder
Donald Kinder

Much of Kinder’s work over the years has brought evidence and precision to the claims of economist Gunnar Myrdal. In 1944, Myrdal wrote “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy.”

“The dilemma that Myrdal claimed to discover at the core of the American problem of race arose out of the glaring contradiction between democratic ideals and racial discrimination,” read a description of Kinder’s lecture provided by the Office of University Development.

“White Americans were caught in a dilemma, suspended between their commitment to noble democratic principles — what Myrdal called the American Creed — on the one side, and their belief in the superiority of the white race, on the other.

“In the struggle between democratic principles and race prejudice, Myrdal was certain that the former would prevail: the American Creed’s advance was inexorable and racism’s days were numbered.”

During his lecture, Kinder will offer three illustrations. The first is of the emergence of a new form of racism, unanticipated by Myrdal, that arose out of the racial crisis of the 1960s. The second is of the statewide campaign to prohibit the use of race in university admissions in Michigan in 2006, and the third is of the rise to power of Donald Trump in 2016.

Kinder has played a leading role in almost every major development in the field of public opinion research over the past four decades. In his seminal book, 1987’s “News that Matters,” he demonstrated the power of television news to shift public priorities and to shape the criteria by which voters evaluate politicians.

Kinder’s 1996 book, “Divided by Color,” made an equally significant contribution to the study of racial attitudes and politics. He advanced a new theory of contemporary prejudice that explained how a fusion of anti-Black sentiment and conservative values forge what has come to be known as “racial resentment” and is understood to be one of the strongest and most consistent forces shaping American public opinion.

In another pioneering study, “Us Against Them,” published in 2009, Kinder demonstrated how popular predispositions to broader forms of group-based thinking operate, transcending prejudices toward specific groups and seeing society in terms of favored in-groups and shunned out-groups.

Kinder joined U-M in 1981. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1993 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2017. The American Political Science Association honored him in 2012 with the Warren E. Miller Award for lifetime achievement in the study of public opinion and elections.


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