Changing Votes, Changing Identities? Racial Fluidity and Vote Switching in the 2012-2016 US Presidential Elections
Public Opinion Quarterly
38 Pages Posted: 3 Jun 2019 Last revised: 19 Oct 2021
Date Written: March 21, 2021
Although racial identity is usually assumed to be unchanging, recent research shows otherwise. The role of politics in racial identification change has received little attention. Using panel data with waves around two recent presidential elections, this paper reveals survey evidence of racial fluidity and its strong relationship with vote switching patterns. Across several models and robust to various controls, switching from a non-Republican vote in 2012 to a 2016 Republican vote (i.e., non-Romney to Trump) significantly predicts nonwhite to white race change. Among nonwhites who did not vote Republican in 2012, switching to a Republican vote in 2016 increases the probability of adopting a white racial identity from a 0.03 baseline to 0.49 (1539% increase). Individuals originally identifying as Mixed and Hispanic drive this identity-voting link. A parallel dynamic on the Democratic side (new Democratic voters moving from white to nonwhite identities) does not occur. The systematic relationship between Trump switching and white identity adoption is unlikely to be spurious or due to measurement error, does not appear for the 2008-2012 election period, and makes theoretical sense in light of 2016 campaign rhetoric and trends in political-social identity alignment.
Keywords: race change, vote switching, racial identity
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