The VRA and Southern Racism

The Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the Voting Rights Act today.  To read while it’s still needed, there’s this.   Anyway, I was intrigued by the comments of John Roberts (via TPM):

A question posed by Chief Justice John Roberts to the Obama administration’s lawyer defending the Voting Rights Act captured the tenor of the proceedings.

“Is it the government’s submission that citizens in the South are more racist than citizens in the North?” Roberts asked.

Roberts thinks that “no” is the obvious answer to this question.  But this is an empirical question, to which we know the answer.  It’s a little dated now, but my friend and colleague Mike Cobb made his name with an innovative approach to more accurately measuring racism.  You can read the whole thing here, but I’ll excerpt from the abstract:

Using a new and relatively unobtrusive measure of racial attitudes designed to overcome possible social desirability effects, our study finds racial prejudice to be still high in the South and markedly higher in the South than the non-South. Preliminary evidence also indicates that this prejudice is concentrated among white southern men.  [emphasis mine]

Well, there you go, Justice Roberts.  Now, this was published in 1997 and Mike tells me he’s not aware of any replication since then, but I think it’s safe to presume that something “markedly higher” has not disappeared completely in 15 years.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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