Ismail White | Assessing Racial Identity as Constraint on Democratic Accountability

CSDP American Politics Colloquium
Feb 1, 2024, 12:00 pm1:30 pm
Faculty, fellows, and graduate students only



Event Description

In this paper, we argue that voters’ use of racial identity as information for formulating electoral judgments is much more pragmatic than previous researchers have made it out to be. Using an abstracted experimental design which allows us to assess the racial group identity-based representation preferences of Black and White Americans, we elucidate the logic of support for co-racial representatives by clarifying how race functions as information about: 1) the potential for prospective representation of individual interest and 2) information that could potentially bias the uptake of new information about how well interest are actually being represented. We find that Black, but not White, study participants express strong preferences for having racial ingroup members make decisions that affect their interest, and that this ingroup preference, by no means, render Black participants immune to updating as critics of identity politics might claim. If anything, it is Black participants’ particular sensitivity to White representatives’ (out-group) inability to faithfully represent their interest that biases their judgments.  Thus, the evidence presented from these experiments suggests that race as information in elections likely functions, initially, as a low information cue that racial minority voters use to infer the potential for substantive representation, but once performance information is made clear, minority voters readily engage in retrospective evaluations of politicians which includes abandoning co-racial representatives who fail to faithfully represent their interest. 

Center for the Study of Democratic Politics (CSDP)