The professors wanted to test a popular theory that subtly racist cues ― such as terms like “inner city” that many associate with Black Americans ― harness subconscious racial animus to sway white voters against government spending. Statements that are openly racist, on the other hand, are thought to turn off those voters.

“If the dog-whistle hypothesis is correct, we would expect implicit but not explicit racial appeals to increase the impact of racial resentment on whites’ policy evaluations,” Wetts and Willer wrote.

Their experiment confirmed the hypothesis ― but with an unexpected twist. After the participants read the political statements and were asked how they felt about welfare, the ones with the most negative attitude compared to the control group were self-identified white liberals who’d read the implicit racial appeal and who had scored highly on the racial resentment scale.

Conservatives, on the other hand, did not indicate less support for welfare after reading either the coded or the explicit statements, though they started from a less supportive position in the first place.