American politics always has surprises, but things have been especially unpredictable since President Obama took office. First, few observers were prepared for the tea party movement, which ousted several veteran GOP lawmakers, replaced them with more radically conservative newcomers, and helped the Republican Party win control of the House of Representatives in 2010.
"That left a lot of analysts slack-jawed, wondering: what was this latent force that drove the emergence of this movement?" said Robb Willer, a sociologist at Stanford University.
Then, of course, there was Donald Trump.
Willer speculates that one thing connecting these two political earthquakes might be white voters' unconscious racial biases. In a series of psychological experiments between 2011 and 2015, he showed how hostility toward people with darker skin and perceived racial threats can influence white support for the tea party. He and his colleagues published a draft of a paper on their findings online last week -- some of the most direct evidence of the importance of race to the conservative resurgence during Obama's presidency.