Date of Degree
American Politics | Politics and Social Change | Race and Ethnicity
racial threat; racial resentment; democratic backsliding; democracy
Paper 1 begins by exploring the role of white racial anxieties in the formation and furtherance of narratives about election fraud. It argues that white Americans face a psychological dilemma: despite having a strong desire to reject the outcomes of recent elections that disproportionately benefit nonwhite Americans, they nevertheless seek to justify a political system that has long accrued benefits to their own racial group. This tension might be discharged by accusing nonwhite voters of fraud, thus maintaining the legitimacy of electoral politics. The paper uses three tests to show that this process is likely at play. First, public rhetorics on Twitter centered Black municipalities in 2020. Secondly, white Americans with high levels of (classical) racial resentment saw their confidence in the 2020 election deteriorate more in the post-election period than did other white voters. Finally, a novel survey experiment shows that white Americans are more likely to believe accusations of fraud when levied against Black municipalities, and especially among those high in racial antipathy.
Paper 2 asks whether these beliefs within the white electorate are then translated into actual legislation. In the aftermath of the United States’ 2020 presidential election, state legislatures introduced and passed an unprecedented wave of restrictive voting bills. While research has looked at the state level drivers of restrictive voting legislation, this project explores what factors predict which legislators within states push for these laws. Specifically, it asks whether district level characteristics predict when a lawmaker will use bill sponsorship to send messages about their positions beyond that sent by a simple roll-call vote. Theories of geographical threat and racial resentment are used to predict where sponsorship of these bills is most likely. The results tie observed legislative activity to these theoretical expectations: lawmakers representing the whitest state legislative districts in the least-white states were the most likely to sponsor restrictive bills, as were those representing districts with the most racially-resentful white residents. Despite these lawmakers justifying these restrictive laws by claiming that fraud is a major problem, racial resentment(s) and racism among their constituents are tied to the likely introduction and passage of these bills. This raises important questions about commitments to multiracial democracy.
Paper 3 then studies how nonwhite Americans react to an aggressive state. This paper marks the first test of the household-level turnout effects of living with someone who died from Covid-19. Drawing on policy threat literature, the paper hypothesizes that the government’s inaction with respect to Covid should demobilize those closest to it---unless narratives and frames allow them to link their experience to larger social narratives holding the government accountable. The study links death records with the registered voter file to identity Americans who lived in households where someone died, leveraging a triple-differences design to distinguish the effect household Covid deaths on turnout from non-Covid ones in Minnesota, North Carolina, and Washington State. The administrative data are ambiguous, not pointing to a distinct political effect from a Covid death per se. Survey data, however, indicate that Covid contact was associated with higher turnout for precisely the individuals for whom narratives about discrimination should resonate most. The paper concludes with reflections on the limits of administrative data in untangling competing psychological mechanisms.
Morris, Kevin, "From Voting Rights to Voter Turnout: Three Papers on the Interplay of Racial Resentment, Racial Threat, and Politics" (2023). CUNY Academic Works.
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