President Obama's skin-tone was darkened in 2008 GOP campaign ads, according to a new study. These images were shown as examples. (Photo: Public Opinion Quarterly)

President Obama’s skin-tone was darkened in 2008 GOP campaign ads, according to a new study. These images were shown as examples. (Photo: Public Opinion Quarterly)

President Obama’s skin tone was digitally altered in 2008 Republican campaign ads to make him appear darker and more sinister, according to a new study. The ads were designed to appeal to voters’ racial prejudices and tie Obama closely to crime and radical activists. Even Hillary Clinton used the tactic, the study says.

The Oxford Public Opinion Quarterly reported that researchers studied 126 campaign ads going back to Obama’s first run for president in 2008.

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“The data show that the darkest images of Obama appear in the most negative, stereotype-consistent ads,” according to the study.

Publication of the study comes at a time when GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump has been accused of playing to racial stereotypes to appeal to voter prejudices.

The ads portraying Obama with darker skin focused on claims crime would rise if he were elected. Of the ads studied, those linking him with radical Chicago activist Bill Ayres or crime showed him with darker skin 86 percent of the time, according to the study.

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Obama is light-skinned. His mother was white and his father was African-American.

Thee researchers also found that images of 2008 Republican presidential opponent John McCain were also altered to make him appear fairer skinned. Those images were often juxtaposed with images of a darker Obama.

Changing skin-tone and other subtle changes are known as “dog whistle” tactics. They are designed to send subliminal messages to people who harbor prejudices that others may not readily comprehend.

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Researchers had this to say:

“We expected to see darker portrayals of Obama in ads that attempt to tie him to crime, based on the stereotyping literature reviewed. Indeed, in attack ads that associated Obama with alleged criminal activity by leftists, the probability that the ad contained one of the darkest images is 86 percent, compared to 30 percent for other ads.”

Even Hillary Clinton apparently wasn’t above using “dog whistle” tactics to make President Obama seem more sinister. During the 2008 Democratic primary, Obama was portrayed with darker skin and wider facial features. She was called out for it at the time.



“These findings help explain why darker depictions of Obama decreased support for his candidacy during the 2008 primary campaign and why people tend not to prefer hypothetical black candidates with a darker complexion,” they wrote.

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“Together, the evidence we present shows that manipulating or selecting images of a Black candidate with a darker complexion can shape how individuals respond to political advertisements and think about politics.” In this election cycle, Ben Carson, an African-American and noted surgeon is running in the Republican primary for president. His features are far darker than Obama’s. His campaign has faded in recent weeks because of notable discrepancies about events portrayed in books he’s authored.

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The appeal to racial prejudice was used effectively in the 1988 presidential campaign. It pitted Republican George H.W. Bush against Democrat Michael Dukakis, the former governor of Massachusetts.

Bush, in a series of devastating ads, tied Dukakis to Willie Horton, a convicted felon, who committed a rape after he was released under a Massachusetts furlough program during Dukakis’ term in office. Bush cited Horton in repeated campaign speeches.”By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate,” Bush political adviser Lee Atwater said at the time.

The study is titled: “Bias in the Flesh: Skin Complexion and Stereotype Consistency in Political Campaigns.” Solomon Messing, Director of Data Labs at the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC is the lead author.

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