Historical Narratives and Political Behavior in the US

57 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2024

Date Written: March 22, 2024


We examine perceptions of the history of race in the United States and its impact on present-day political polarization. Based on survey data from 14,044 US respondents, we examine historical narratives surrounding key racial events among both white and Black individuals. Our analysis unveils notable discrepancies in beliefs regarding the causes of the Civil War, the achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, and the enduring legacy of slavery on Black Americans today. Ideological divisions in historical interpretations, particularly among white respondents, emerge prominently, while differences across race and generation are less pronounced. Moreover, we investigate the political ramifications of these historical viewpoints through two experimental interventions. Participants were randomly prompted to contemplate their own perspectives on these issues and to confront the views of others. The results of our experiments indicate that historical narratives about race can exacerbate polarization in institutional satisfaction. Liberals exhibit heightened pessimism and dissatisfaction with the current institutional framework as a result of the treatments, while conservatives remain largely unaffected. This study underscores the significance of understanding the origins and repercussions of historical accounts concerning intergroup tensions, which may contribute to contemporary political divisions.

Keywords: historical memory, narratives, history, United States, race

JEL Classification: D63, D72, H10, J15, P16, Z1

Suggested Citation

Ramos-Toro, Diego and Voytas, Elsa, Historical Narratives and Political Behavior in the US (March 22, 2024). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4769300 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4769300

Diego Ramos-Toro

Dartmouth College

Department of Economics
Hanover, NH 03755
United States

Elsa Voytas (Contact Author)

Dartmouth College ( email )

Department of Sociology
Hanover, NH 03755
United States

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