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Race, Region, and Vote Choice in the 2008 Election: Implications for the Future of the Voting Rights Act

53 Pages Posted: 26 Aug 2009 Last revised: 10 Apr 2011

Stephen Ansolabehere

Harvard University - Department of Government

Nathaniel Persily

Columbia Law School

Charles Stewart III

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science

Abstract

The election of an African American as President of the United States has raised questions as to the continued relevance and even constitutionality of various provisions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Barack Obama’s apparent success among whites in 2008 has caused some to question the background conditions of racially polarized voting that are key to litigation under Section 2 of the VRA. His success in certain states, such as Virginia, has also raised doubts about the formula for coverage of jurisdictions under Section 5 of the VRA. This Article examines the data from the 2008 primary and general election to assess, in particular, the geographic patterns of racial differences in voting behavior. The data suggest that significant differences remain between whites and racial minorities and between jurisdictions that are covered and not covered by Section 5 of the VRA. These differences remain even when controlling for partisanship, ideology and a host of other politically relevant variables. The Article discusses the implications of President Obama’s election for legal conceptions of racially polarized voting and for decisions concerning which jurisdictions Section 5 ought to cover.

Suggested Citation

Ansolabehere, Stephen and Persily, Nathaniel and Stewart III, Charles, Race, Region, and Vote Choice in the 2008 Election: Implications for the Future of the Voting Rights Act. Harvard Law Review, Vol. 123, 2010; Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 09-211; MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2011-1. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1462363

Stephen Ansolabehere

Harvard University - Department of Government ( email )

1737 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Nathaniel Persily (Contact Author)

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10025
United States

Charles Stewart III

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Department of Political Science ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02139
United States

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