Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's TV ads claiming President Barack Obama "gutted" welfare reform resonate with people who have more conservative views on racial issues, according to a new study released Monday.
Prior to the study, many reporters debunked the welfare ads. Citing longstanding associations between welfare and African Americans, a few commentators have also noted racial undertones in the ads, which incorrectly claim Obama has eliminated work requirements for people who receive welfare benefits.
The Romney campaign did not respond to a request for comment, but his defenders have insisted there is no racial element to the welfare attacks.
Michael Tesler, an assistant professor of political science at Brown University, drew on YouGov data to study people's reactions to the welfare ad. Of the 1,000 people surveyed, half had seen the spot. Among the respondents randomly assigned to watch it, the ones shown by the YouGov data to be more inclined to believe that racial inequality results from individual shortcomings -- and not structural barriers facing African Americans -- were more likely to believe Romney would help the poor, the middle class and blacks.
"The welfare ad did not appear to affect people's overall answers to those questions," Tesler wrote. "However, it did make attitudes toward blacks a stronger predictor of respondents' views about the consequences of Romney's policies for the poor, the middle class, and African-Americans."
Tesler concluded, "the results from our experiment suggest that ads like the one in this post may well contribute to the growing polarization of public opinion by racial attitudes beyond the voting booth in the age of Obama."
Recent swing state polls show that Romney holds a sizable advantage among white working-class voters.