Here are four items typically used to measure symbolic racism, in which respondents are asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statements:
1. Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.
2. Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
3. Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.
4. It's really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.
These four items are designed such that an antiblack racist would tend to respond the same way as a non-racist principled conservative. Many researchers realize this conflation problem and make an effort to account for this conflation. For example, here is an excerpt from Rabinowitz, Sears, Sidanius, and Krosnick 2010, explaining how responses to symbolic racism items might be influenced in part by non-racial values:
Adherence to traditional values—without concomitant racial prejudice—could drive Whites' responses to SR [symbolic racism] measures and their opinions on racial policy issues. For example, Whites' devotion to true equality may lead them to oppose what they might view as inherently inequitable policies, such as affirmative action, because it provides advantages for some social groups and not others. Similarly affirmative action may be perceived to violate the traditional principle of judging people on their merits, not their skin color. Consequently, opposition to such policies may result from their perceived violation of widely and closely held principles rather than racism.
However, this nuance is sometimes lost. Here is an excerpt from the Pasek, Krosnick, and Tompson 2012 manuscript that was discussed by the Associated Press shortly before the 2012 presidential election:
Explicit racial attitudes were gauged using questions designed to measure "Symbolic Racism" (Henry & Sears, 2002).
The proportion of Americans expressing explicit anti-Black attitudes held steady between 47.6% in 2008 and 47.3% in 2010, and increased slightly and significantly to 50.9% in 2012.