Racial Inequality in Retrospective Voting
28 Pages Posted: 25 Aug 2014
Date Written: 2014
An important yet overlooked component of retrospective voting theory is the extent to which it may exacerbate existing inequalities if the outcomes for some groups of citizens are given greater attention than others when voters make their decisions at the ballot box. We investigate whether there is racial inequality in retrospective voting by evaluating the relationship between white and racial minority student achievement and the vote share of incumbent school board members seeking reelection. Analyzing election data from California for 2004-2010, we find evidence that voters reward or punish incumbent officeholders based on how well or poorly white students are faring while, in contrast, the achievement levels of African American and Hispanic students receive comparatively little attention. We then engage in a preliminary analysis to identify possible mechanisms driving these results and report survey data that indicates nearly half of Americans are not aware of the disparities in educational achievement between white and racial minority students and, among those who are aware, the vast majority believe the disparities are caused by factors outside of schools’ (and, by extension, school board members’) control.
Keywords: racial inequality, voting behavior, education achievement gap
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