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TURES COLUMN: Is there race-based voting in America?

I’m sure you are convinced that race-based voting is rampant in American politics. But what you’re probably thinking of is whether certain groups support certain parties. That’s not race-based voting. My students compared the 2016 and 2020 election results, and also compared the 2008 election with its predecessors, in my “Race and Politics” class. And here is what we found.

African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans tend to back the Democratic Party, while whites tend to support the Republican Party in recent elections. But that’s not race-based voting.  How groups respond based upon who is on the ticket may be an entirely different matter.

I challenged my students (Maalik Baisden, Kristina Calixto, Chase Davis, Madison Demkowski, DeQueze Fryer, Olivia Hanners, Porter Law, Taren McGhee, Jalen Morgan, Brennan Oates, Yasmin Roper, Damir Rosencrants, Jake Thrailkill and Andrew Valbuena) to compare groups and their support of both the 2016 and 2020 candidates. Using data from the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institute, we compared group support for both sets of candidates in 2016 and 2020, as well as who was on the presidential election ticket.

In 2016, both the Republicans (Donald Trump-Mike Pence) and the Democrats (Hillary Clinton-Tim Kaine) had white pairs of candidates. The GOP kept the same ticket in 2020, but the Democrats switched to a mixed-race ticket, with Joe Biden joined by Kamala Harris, who is a mix of African-American and Asian-American roots. How would voters respond?

African-Americans supported the white-white Democratic Party ticket in 2016 with an 81% margin of the vote. That African-American support for Democrats fell to a 75% margin of support with a mixed ticket, with an African-American candidate on the VP ballot.

Asian-Americans were similar in their response to a mixed-ticket. They gave the Clinton-Kaine white ticket a winning margin of 38% in 2016. That margin of support among Asian-Americans fell to 27% for the Democrats with South Asian Kamala Harris on the ballot. Hispanics went for the Democratic Party white ticket by a 38-point margin in 2016, a disparity which declined to 33 percent for the Democrats in 2020, with a mixed-race ticket.

If you think that’s shocking, you see should see how whites voted. In 2016, whites went for Trump by a margin of 20 percentage points. With the same GOP white-white ticket, and Democrats replacing a white-white ticket in 2020 with a mixed-race candidate pairing, white support for the Democratic Party improved by three percentage points.

It’s not the only case against race-based voting. The New York Times exit polls that we studied in class showed that from 1972 to 2008, white support for the Democratic Party was 43% in 2008, when Barack Obama was on the ticket. Only in 1996 was such support that high. Jimmy Carter won 47% of the white vote in 1976, but that’s when Hispanics may have been merged with whites that year (there is no separate analysis for Hispanics that year). When Hispanics were evaluated separately again in 1980, Carter’s white support fell to 36%, closer to the numbers achieved by Mondale in 1984 (35%) or even McGovern in 1972 (31%). Obama won 95% of the African-American vote, but such support is only a little higher than African-American support for Gore (90%) or Clinton’s share of the two-party vote in 1992 and 1996 or African-American support for Mondale (90%).