Study: Politicians Ignore Voters Based on Race

Study: Politicians Ignore Voters Based on Race

A new study says this anti-Black prejudice in politics isn’t going anywhere.

Published May 6, 2011

African-Americans have long been actively excluded from much of American politics. With things like poll taxes, which disenfranchised poor Blacks even after they were given the right to vote, and the Southern strategy, through which the GOP intentionally divided voters by race, Blacks have been told time and again that their opinions don’t matter when it comes to electing leaders. One would like to think that the election of our first president of color would change all that. Sadly, a new study says this anti-Black prejudice in politics isn’t going anywhere.


Daniel Butler and David Broockman at Yale wanted to see if there was a difference between how politicians responded to potential Black voters and potential white voters. To do so, they used a stereotypically “Black” name, DeShawn Jackson, and a stereotypically “white” name, Jake Mueller, and then reached out to thousands of state legislators of both political parties saying they wanted help registering to vote. Their results, sadly, were probably what you expect.


“We find that the putatively Black alias continues to be differentially treated even when the emails signal partisanship,” the research paper, titled “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate?” says, “indicating that strategic considerations cannot completely explain the observed differential treatment. Further analysis reveals that white legislators of both parties exhibit similar levels of discrimination against the Black alias.”


For their part, minority politicians did the opposite of the whites, responding to the “Black name” more often.


Two takeaways here: One is that everyone is behaving badly by not responding to voters of opposite races. It’s outrageous that whites ignore the support of Black voters, of course, but it’s also bad for Black politicians to ignore white voters. That being said, the simple fact of the matter is that Black politicians may be more interested in attracting Black votes for the reason that Blacks have for so long been left out of the political process. It makes sense to want to gin up Black votes and give Blacks some sense of legislative power again.


Secondly, this study shows that it’s no wonder more Blacks aren’t voting in elections big and small. The vast majority of politicians in America—Democrats and Republicans—are white. And there’s only so long you can turn your back on Black voters before they learn that you’re not interested in what they have to say and turn their backs on all politics.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Written by Cord Jefferson


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