Category Archives: Race

Why voting matters: non-voters have different preferences

This week the Census Bureau released their data on voter turnout in the 2014 election, and the numbers are abysmal. In 2014, only 41.9 percent of the voting age citizen population turned out, the lowest number census has recorded since they began collecting data in 1978. But these broad numbers obscure an even more important reality: that the decline in turnout between the 2012 Presidential election and the 2014 midterm was strongest among low-income people (see chart) andpeople of color.

As it happens this is also the first election since the Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act and conservatives rushed to pass discriminatorylaws aimed at suppressing voter turnout. There is a large body of evidence suggesting that when voting is easier, more people vote, and that voter suppression laws disproportionately impact the poor and people of color. The turnout numbers from 2014 are dramatic: At the lowest income bracket, less than 1 in 4 citizens of voting age turned out, and only half were registered to vote, a drop of 48 percent from the presidential election. At the highest bracket the Census records data for ($150,000 and above), 80 percent were registered and 57 percent voted, a drop-off of 29 percent from the presidential election. However, another data source that surveysthe wealthiest 1 percent found that in 2008, 99 percent voted, suggesting bias at the very top might be even higher.

In a previous Demos explainer, I argued that lower class bias in voter turnout would lead to more economically progressive policies and benefit the poor. In an upcoming piece, I expand on that argument with new data. One thing I examine is how policies that reduce turnout among people of color effect policy. To do so I used the American National Election Studies 2012 survey to examine differences in public opinion between white voters and non-white nonvoters. I focus on four questions about fundamental disputes about the role of government: whether government should increase service, boost spending on the poor, guarantee jobs and reduce inequality. I examine net support, meaning I subtracted the percentage of people in support of the law from the percent in favor.

As the chart above shows, the preferences of white voters are dramatically different than non-white nonvoters. While on net white voters want government to decrease services (52 percent say cut services and 24 percent say more, with 24 percent saying keep them at the same), nonwhite nonvoters overwhelmingly favor expanding services (16.8 percent, 47.1 percent and 36 percent, respectively). While a modest majority of white voters want more spending on the poor (26 percent to 24 percent with 49 percent saying keep spending the same), support among non-white nonvoters is dramatic (57.2 percent, 7.9 percent and 35 percent respectively). All told, nonvoters of color have vastly different preferences about the size and scope of government than white voters.

The divergent preferences of nonvoters mean that boosting turnout would change government policy to be more beneficial to the poor. The implications of universal voter turnout would be dramatic, as a brief examination of the international, historical and state level data suggest. Examining data from 19 countries over 22 years, Peter Lindert writes, “A stronger voter turnout seems to have raised spending on every kind of social program.” A study of Latin American countries from 1970 and 2008 finds that increasing democracy boosted spending on education, health, social security and welfare. Economists Dennis Mueller and Thomas Stratmann estimatethat if voter turnout in increase from 40 percent to 80 percent, it would reduce the Gini Coefficient (which measures inequality on a scale from 0 to 1) by .04, which isequal to the entire effect of taxes in the United States. New studies examiningdifferences in class bias (differences in turnout between the rich and poor) at the state level suggest that boosting turnout would reduce inequality by pushing policy in a more progressive direction.

Obviously, voter turnout can’t remedy all the gaps in participation in the American political system. As the chart below shows, the richest Americans engage with the political system far more across the board. But this only increases the importance for reducing the bias in voting, which is the simplest to remedy. One archaic barrier thatpolitical scientists agree reduces turnout is registration. By passing automatic voter registration, which places the responsibility for registering on governments, rather than individuals, we could easily boost turnout. Other reforms to make voting easier, such as making Election Day a holiday, non-partisan voter registration drives, and early voting periods, should also be implemented.

In addition, we must fervently fight voter suppression. As Naila Awan has noted, conservatives in North Carolina used the gutting of the VRA to ram through a bill to eliminate same day registration, early voting and pre-registration while also passing a strict voter ID law. In Wisconsin, Scott Walker has pushed for a voter ID laws thatwould disenfranchise as many as 300,000 eligible voters. Such bald attempts to suppress voting deserve to be universally condemned.

In addition, we should increase the voices of average Americans through a robust public financing system. The donor class is 90 percent white and 70 percent male.  Awhopping 42 percent of campaign contributions come from a tiny portion of donors, the 0.01 percent. Rather than 25,000 hyper-wealthy Americans dictating policy, a public financing system could increase the representation of people of color and working class people as well as women, in the donor pool. Research on the New York City public financing program suggests that it boosted diversity in the donor pool. Creating fair districts should also be a priority, because it would make every vote matter, encouraging voter turnout. Voting matters. The best evidence for why it does is how damn hard oligarchs fight to make sure you can’t.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Wealth is dived deeply by race and gender

Years of discriminatory policies that favored white men at the expense of the common good have created stunning disparities that persist to this day.

Though many Americans favor an approach to equality that stands for “giving everyone an equal chance,” the realities of inheritance, neighborhood segregation and outright discrimination make such meritocratic ideals suspect. (This meritocracy myth is akin to insisting, as 19th century political economist Henry George once noted, “that each should swim for himself in crossing a river, ignoring the fact that some had been artificially provided with corks and other artificially loaded with lead.”) A new study by Mariko Chang shows just how deep those wealth gaps remain today.

Chang’s report, published by the Asset Funders Network and making use of Consumer Finance Survey data, suggests stark gaps. First the report shows gaps between married couples, single men and single women.

It’s worth noting the large disparities not just between men and women, but also between the median and mean. That suggests a deep inequality: the mean is being pulled higher by numerous rich people at the top. (Consider an instance in which Bill Gates walks into a bar full of working-class women and men. The mean wealth increases dramatically, while the median increases modestly.) As Matt Bruenig has noted, “The top 10% of families own 75.3% of the nation’s wealth. The bottom half of families own 1.1% of it.”

Adding a racial lens to the data (viewed in the chart above) also produces stark divergences: the median black woman has $200 in wealth, the median white man: $28,900. Age also matters: The data suggest millennial (18-34) women, of all races, have $0 in wealth. That leaves very little buffer from an unexpected job loss or medical emergency (made even more likely by the conservative war against access to healthcare, for instance their refusal to expand Medicaid, which primarily harms people of color).

Indeed, data show “the top 10% of white families own 65.1% of all the wealth in the nation.”

Although women are now more likely to complete college than men, this alone won’t close the wealth gap. The median single woman with a college degree has wealth of $18,710. The median single man: $31,400. Even pay equality won’t close the gaps. The highest-earning women, those earning more than $65,001, have median wealth of $166,000, while men in the same bracket have median wealth of $223,700.

As I’ve noted recently in Salon, policymakers are biased toward the policies of rich white men. Indeed, for a long time, all of the policymakers were rich white men. The gaps Chang exposes are not simply the product of neutral or natural forces; extensive research shows that government policy was there all along, benefiting some at the expense of the few.

What are the solutions? First, America needs a strong public sector. That means more money for infrastructure, childcare, higher education and universal pre-K. America needs to invest in its cities, and its communities, particularly low-income, black and Latino communities that have faced decades of disinvestment and neglect. Second, America needs full employment. That means active fiscal policy and guaranteed jobsfor all Americans who want to work. Third, America needs a financial sector thatworks for everyone. That means a modest financial transaction tax to limit excessive trading and a baby bond to give every American a shot at buying stock, starting a business or buying a house in a better neighborhood. To get there, America needs a true, participatory and equal democracy. That means ensuring policymakers pay attention to everyone, not just the wealthy donor class. Limits on, or at leastdisclosure of, lobbying and campaign contributions from the rich, combined withpublic financing to amplify the voices of women, people of color and workers would bring us closer to a vibrant democracy. Eliminating discriminatory barriers to voting will breathe life into our democracy.

Deep disparities in wealth belie the American myth that simply because we have a black president and Oprah is massively wealthy our problems are over. Chang’s report shows that single black and Hispanic women own less than a penny for every dollar owned by single white men. Once again: single black and Hispanic women own less than a penny for every dollar owned by single white men. That didn’t just happen.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Why hasn’t democracy reduced inequality?

More than a century ago, German scholar Werner Sombart published a book entitled “Warum gibt es in den Vereinigten Staaten keinen Sozialismus?” or, “Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?” Today, many scholars and political thinkers ask the same question, and the answers vary broadly. While many of the answers — racism, the malapportionment of the Senate, federalism, a pro-business Supreme Court, low levels of civic participation — all have some truth and explanatory power, it remains difficult nonetheless to square democracy and inequality. Democracy was supposed to be “the road to socialism,” after all.

Now a new study by Nicholas Stephanopoulos sheds light on why “democracy” hasn’t reduced inequality: Because it doesn’t exist.

Stephanopoulos used two sources for his analysis: first, the massive database of public opinion surveys covering 2,074 questions over a 25-year period (1981-2006) compiled by Martin Gilens for his book “Affluence and Influence;” second, he combined state level exit polls from between 2000 and 2010 with an index of state policy liberalism, thus allowing him to compare the preferences of different groups with the outcomes of policy. He controlled for group size by multiplying a group’s support for a policy by its share of the population. Like Gilens, Stephanopoulos only compared policies in which preferences between the two groups being studied differed by more than 10 points.

As shown in the charts below, Gilens’ dataset demonstrates convincingly that the preferences of women, people of color and those falling into low- and middle-income brackets have almost no effect on policy. A flat line indicates that policy preferences have no influence on policy, a downward-sloping line means that a group’s policy preferences have a negative impact on policy. An upward-sloping line indicates that a group’s preferences have a positive impact on policy — that is, they get what they want. This dataset is incredibly useful, because rather than examining broad ideological measures, it directly asks: Do the people get what they want?

The answer is: Yes, if they’re rich white men.

The negative line for women is particularly troublesome. For more than half of the United States population, supporting a policy actually means policymakers are less likely to pass it. As Stephanopoulos explains,

“As male support increases from 0 percent to 100 percent, the odds of policy enactment rise from about 0 percent to about 90 percent. But as female support varies over the same range, the likelihood of adoption falls from roughly 80 percent to roughly 10 percent. When men and women disagree, then, stronger female backing for a policy seems entirely futile.”

This is absolutely insane.

While the Gilens dataset only measures policy outputs at the federal level, the second dataset examines how opinions and policy correlate at the state level. The charts below document how the ideology of different groups interact with the ideology of state policy.

As you can see, whites and Latinos have positive and statistically significant influence on policy, while blacks do not. This means that if blacks in Mississippi are more liberal than blacks in Alabama, that won’t affect the relative policies of each state. And, once again, women have no influence on policy at all, nor do low-income people. Indeed, Stephanopoulos writes that “state policy liberalism actually decreases from about 1 (or roughly Ohio’s policy set) to about -1 (or roughly New Hampshire’s) as the ideology of those making less than $30,000 varies over the same range.” That is, poor people’s preferences are negatively correlated with policy in their state.

Much of what Stephanopoulos finds meshes with other research on the subject: Other studies (particularly the work of John Griffin and Brian Newman) find that people of color have divergent preferences and that those preferences aren’t well represented. However, Stephanopoulos finds much larger gender gaps than other research has suggested. Griffin and Newman, for instance, found that gender gaps in representation were rather small. However, their method was based on how frequently women had policy “wins,” meaning that the policy they supported was enacted. This means that their methodology can’t recognize “democracy by coincidence,” which Stephanopoulos’s work suggests may be occurring.

In another work, Griffin and Newman with Christina Wolbrecht find that much of the gender gap could be explained by the fact that Republicans tend to oppose policies women support. Indeed, much of the work on class and race on representation findsthatpartiescanserve as partial explanations for representation gaps by mediating preferences. The Republican Party has become “an efficient patronage machine for whites and the top 1 percent of U.S. earners.” Because the Republican party acts for the benefit of exclusively white rich men, whereas the Democratic party must juggle a broad and diverse coalition, the party system can give rise to representation gaps. However, parties are not the sole explanatory variable, because there is strongevidence that the Democratic party has shifted to the right in order to accommodate the increasing influence of the wealthy (and the declining influence of unions). In addition, Griffin and Newman note (see chapter 5) that while Democrats represent blacks and Latinos better than Republicans, they still favor the preferences of whites.

I have emphasized voter turnout frequently as a significant explanatory variable. The fact that people of color, young people, poor people and single women all turn out at a lower rate surely contributes to these gaps. The fact that nonvoters are more progressive than voters could explain the stubborn conservatism of our politics. Among these groups, who make up what pollster Celinda Lake refers to as the “Rising American Electorate,” 42 percent are unregistered, compared with 27 percent of non-RAE. Further, only 36.1 percent voted in the 2010 midterm, compared with 56.1 percent of non-RAE.

Turnout alone likely can’t explain these gaps, since women turn out at a higher rate than men, but still have less representation. However, turnout is only part of the equation: Wealthy white men also contribute far more to campaigns; Congress is full of rich white men, as are statehouses across the nation; and activists tend to be richer than non-activists. However, as long as voter turnout remains low, politicians can respond to the affluent first and foremost without fear. As political scientists Steven Rosenstone and John Mark Hansen write, “class differences in mobilization typically aggravate rather than mitigate the effects of class differences in political resources.”

Other scholars have emphasized the fact that inequality tends to reinforce itself in public opinion. For instance, Vladimir Gimpelson and Daniel Treisman find that“perceived level of inequality—and not the actual level—correlates strongly with demand for redistribution and reported conflict between rich and poor.” In addition, Kris-Stella Trump finds that rising inequality perpetuates itself, noting that, “Public ideas of what constitutes fair income inequality are influenced by actual inequality: when inequality changes, opinions regarding what is acceptable change in the same direction.” Social experiments suggest that higher levels of inequality lead lower income people to “resign” to the levels of inequality, rather than take actions to reduce the power of the rich. However, there is still strong support for redistribution and policies to reduce inequality among Americans. The problem is that support forthesepoliciesisconcentrated among the poor, people of color and women–the groups policymakers are least likely to listen to. The net result of the preferences of women, people of color, youth and poor people being ignored is to push American policy in a more conservative direction. Claims that Americans haven’t gotten redistribution because they aren’t aware of rising inequality or are too individualistic have some truth, but they obscure more than they illuminate. In reality, Americans want redistribution, but the elites who control the political system won’t give it to them. Why hasn’t democracy reduced inequality? Because it never had the chance.

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

The case for a job guarantee

Long-term unemployment is the scourge of modern economies. In a society where people take value from work, unemployment is destabilizing and degrading. A bout of long-term unemployment can permanently scar worker, leaving them with lower wages and fewer usable skills. Last year, Jared Bernstein and Dean Baker put forwarda persuasive case for a return to full employment as the palliative to unemployment. But it’s increasingly clear the private sector cannot create full employment on its own. Even at the height of the Clinton boom, millions of African-Americans and low-skilled workers were jobless. To get full employment, progressives should embrace an idea that hasn’t surfaced recently in mainstream American political dialogue: a universal government job guarantee.

In a recent article, Derek Thompson explored a future “world without work.” While his article was well-researched and informative, it misses a key point: For inner-city Black Americans, “a world without work” is not a dystopian future, but a present reality. As Mark Levine writes, “By 2010, in five of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, fewer than half of working-age black males held jobs. In 25 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, fewer than 55 percent of working-age black males were, in fact, employed.” In a recent Center for Economic Policy Research report Cherrie Bucknor notes the Black/white gap in employment rates “increased during the recent recession and is still larger than its pre-recession level.”

Reniqua Allen refers to this reality as the “permanent recession” that Black men face. People of color are the first to lose jobs during a recession and the last to gain them in a recovery. Further, many future losses from new technology will occur in heavily racialized sectors, like retail and fast food. Occupational segregation means that people of color, and particularly women of color, will bear the brunt of job losses. Racial justice requires addressing the future of work.

A government job guarantee has a long history in American politics. As Theda Skocpol notes in “Social Policy in The United States,” during the recession of the 1890s, the American Federation of Labor (which later merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations to form AFL-CIO), requested public works to abate the recession. They repeated these demands during the early 1900s, and after World War I demanded that “a nation that sent men into battle had a moral and political obligation to make sure they had jobs when they returned home.”

However, the AFL were opposed to government-sponsored unemployment insurance. Skocpol cites Alex Keyssar who writes that, “unionists stressed that public works programs were preferable to simple poor relief in three respects: They paid workers a living wage rather than a pittance; they permitted jobless men and women to avoid the demoralizing consequences of accepting charity; and they performed a useful public service.” However, over the past decade, the government hasn’t guaranteed jobs; instead ,conservative austerity policies have lead to millions of public sector jobs being cut.

One partial reason the government job guarantee may be off the political map these days is because many of those who support such a program no longer turn out to vote. Using ANES, I find that while non-voters are more likely to support than oppose a government-job guarantee, voters are overwhelmingly opposed. However, the ANES question is also rather strongly worded: The option that “government should let each person get ahead on own” is appealing, but in an economy where millions of Americans are unemployed or under-employed even at the lowest levels of unemployment, it also seems mythological.

A recent YouGov poll asks a more pointed question: “Would you favor or oppose a law guaranteeing a job to every American adult, with the government providing jobs for people who can’t find employment in the private sector?” In this formulation support increases significantly, though as the chart below shows, there are still race and class gaps.

A job guarantee could leverage two of the strengths of the progressive movement: electoral power at the federal and city level. A progressive President could direct money and projects to mayors, thereby ending the scourge of inner-city poverty that has plagued America for far too long. Progressives have a long history of creating more jobs, but have failed to articulate an argument for why that is true. That is mainly because progressives have preferred an active monetary policy, rather than active fiscal policy, to boost employment. But voters struggle to understand monetary policy. On the other hand, they could understand a universal job guarantee.

Research suggests that Obama’s response to the Great Recession may lead to voters trusting Democrats more on the economy; but as of yet, this has yet to materialize, and Republicans remain more trusted. A universal job guarantee could change that.

A recent survey of 200 leading economic security experts by the Center for Global Policy Solutions finds that 91 percent say that job creation is important for closing the racial wealth gap. The report recommends a National Investment Employment Corps, guaranteeing jobs with an annual salary of $23,000.

The biggest opposition to a government job guarantee will almost certainly come from big business, and particularly the business-conservative wing of the Republican Party. This may seem surprising, since businesses would benefit from infrastructure and public works, as well as having a highly trained workforce. But this is to misunderstand what corporations seek: not profit, but power.

Economist Chris Dillow makes this argument, arguing that full employment would deprive business of political power by removing their mystical power over the “state of confidence.” If, in fact, the government can maintain full employment, it won’t have to kowtow to business on taxes, regulation and spending. There are also labor implications. If workers could chose to reject a private sector job knowing that a public sector job was available, business would actually have to make working conditions livable and pay a fair wage. This “reserve army of unemployed paupers,” as one economist called them, ensures that workers accept degradation on the job rather than suffer the horrifying fate of unemployment.

The ultimate goal of business conservatives is to turn labor into one homogeneous glob that can be fired, re-located and re-trained at will. Thus they oppose paid sick leave, family leave and higher wages, even though all of these changes boost workerproductivity. Business conservatives despise the minimum wage, though there is very little credible evidence that a higher minimum wage would eliminate large numbers of jobs. The threat of the minimum wage is that it would cut into profits and, more importantly, power. Though more worker ownership would boost worker happiness and productivity, it worries bosses who feel they would be ceding control. Business wants to control workers as much as possible, devising Orwellian strategies to intrusively monitor workers. Business conservatives want workers to be expendable, so they have fought to ensure that if a worker is killed or maimed on the job, they will receive next to nothing.

With workers free to pursue a well-paid, productive public job, corporations would have to pay fairer wages and ensure better labor standards. But while private companies say they love competition, in reality nothing is more terrifying. That will be the most difficult force to overcome in the push for a public jobs program. But if it can be overcome, Americans will benefit extraordinarily. In the wake of the Great Recession, LaDonna Pavetti, writes, “thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia used $1.3 billion from the fund to place more than 260,000 low-income unemployed adults in temporary jobs in the private and public sectors.” The result for workerswas higher incomes, and an easier transition into the workforce after the subsidy program ended.

During the Great Depression, make-work programs funded art and infrastructure, most of which we still enjoy today. In the future, robots may do many of the jobs that humans currently do. That shouldn’t be a lament: We can now put human effort into healing the environment, curing disease and ending hunger.

Today, millions of Americans are jobless. Putting them to work would be a boon for economic growth. In the future, everyone can have a truly fulfilling and life affirming job. But that’s going to require some will, and some government.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Does Fox News viewership correlate with racism?

In the wake of Dylann Storm Roof’s horrifying act of terrorism in South Carolina, many have pointed to the negative influence of conservative media in incubating right-wing extremism. Bill Maher, for example criticized outlets such as Fox News, The Drudge Report and The Daily Caller for presenting a “twisted view,” in which Black people were taking over the country. These criticisms are not new: Fox News has for years come under criticism for its racially-charged coverage. Just recently, in January of last year, Isaac Chotiner wrote that Fox News creates segments “meant to scare its white audience into believing that African Americans, or Muslims, are out to get them.” Meanwhile, Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow have both criticized Fox News’s coverage of the Ferguson murder last year.

New data suggests that their criticisms may be correct.

Using 2012 American National Election Studies data to test whether Fox News viewers have distinct racial attitudes, it can be demonstrated that, indeed, these viewers are more likely to reject the reality of structural racism and to endorse negative stereotypes of Black people.

I examine three areas of racial opinion. The first questions in the data measure racial stereotyping in particular. These questions ask respondents to say whether they believe that Black people are “hard-working” or “lazy,” “intelligent” or “unintelligent” and whether they have “too much influence” or “too little influence” in politics. The second set of questions look at more structural issues. These questions ask respondents whether they agree or disagree with these statements:

Work Way: ‘Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.’

Slavery: ‘Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.’

Deserve: ‘Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve.’

Try: ‘It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.’

Discrimination: How much discrimination do Black people face?

And finally, I look at attitudes towards solutions: whether respondents support government aid to Blacks, think that the government should ensure fair jobs for Blacks. My analysis focuses only on non-Hispanic whites.

To begin, I examined only whites who identify as conservative, and compared the racial attitudes of those who watched Fox News regularly to those who did not. In addition, I examined specifically those who watched “The O’Reilly Factor,” the most popular Fox News show (there is obviously overlap here, about 67 percent of respondents who regularly watch Fox News also report regularly watching O’Reilly). On structural racial issues, I find a nearly 13 point difference on structural racial issues between white conservatives who do not watch Fox News with those who do, and 15 point difference between those who do not watch Fox News with those who watch “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The gaps on most questions are similar, but it’s worth noting that a stunning 92 percent of Fox News viewers and 94 percent of O’Reilly viewers agree “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.” Half of O’Reilly viewers say that there is little or no discrimination against Blacks today, compared with 45 percent of Fox News viewers and 40 percent of white conservatives who don’t watch Fox News.

On issues of interpersonal racism, I find that Fox News and O’Reilly factor viewers are more likely to say Black people are “Lazy,” but are only slightly more likely to say that Black people are unintelligent. However, white conservative Fox News viewers are nearly twice as likely to say that Black people have too much influence over politics. This question is not typically assumed to indicate racial stereotyping, but it should. In a recent study, political scientist Richard Fording and John M. Cotter of the FBI find, “the presence of black elected officials to be positively related to white hate group activity, even after controlling for the size of the nonwhite and Hispanic population, economic conditions, and other characteristics of the political environment.”

 

White respondents who watched Fox News are also far less likely to endorse government action to benefit Black people, saying that the government should not fair treatment in the workplace and that “Black people should help themselves.”

Obviously, there could be other factors at work here: Maybe people more predisposed to racist attitudes gravitate towards Fox News (though this is still an indictment of Fox News). White conservatives who watch Fox News tend have slightly lower incomes and less education than conservatives who don’t — this could help explain some of the effect. They are also older, though evidence suggests that young whites are no less likely to espouse racist attitudes than their parents. In addition, when I examined the racial attitudes of only white conservatives over 50, I still found large differences between Fox News viewers and non-Fox News viewers.

As the chart below shows, whether we compare all whites who watch Fox news vs. those who don’t, or vs. conservatives, or vs. Republicans, or vs. conservatives over 50, the result remains the same: those who watch Fox News are far more likely to endorse racial stereotypes and ignore the issue of structural racism. Those who watch “The O’Reilly Factor” are more likely to deny structural racism and oppose government action to help Blacks.

The Fox News effect is powerful: One study finds that Fox News boosted Republican vote share by 0.4 to 0.7 percentage points between 1996 and 2000. Numerousstudies find that Fox News influences viewers perceptions on key issues. Many of these studies focus on issues related to race, such as the Ground Zero mosque and undocumented immigration. One study finds that, “the Fox News audience is indeed more favorable toward Bush, and has greater hostility toward his opposition, even when controlling for party identification.” They may also be promoting harmful and negative stereotypes about African-Americans, poisoning race relations in America. While it’s impossible to prove that Roof was influenced specifically by Fox News, it’s clear that white conservatives who watch Fox News are far less likely to accept the realities of structural racism than those who do not. They are also modestly more likely to accept harmful racial stereotypes about Black people. Particularly worryingly, they are far more likely to believe that Black people have too much influence over politics. What’s clear, above all else, is that right-wing media are partially responsible for the fraught racial tension in American politics.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

The election reforms that could heal American democracy

Since America’s founding, the franchise has been dramatically expanded in waves: first, universal suffrage for all men (first, through the abolition of property ownership requirements for white men, then the 15th Amendment) then the expansion of suffrage to women and finally the Voting Rights Act, which abolished poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, the franchise is still under fire, from racially biased voter ID laws and felon disenfranchisement, as well as our complex registration system. Automatic voter registration and the abolition of voter ID laws could be part of the next wave of the slow march to true democracy.

Recently, Hillary Clinton called out Republicans for their strategy of suppressing the vote and then called for automatic voting registration. While many pundits quickly chalked this up to an attempt to revive “the Obama coalition,” in fact, Clinton has been pushing for democracy reforms since before “the Obama coalition” existed. In 2005 she and Senator Barbara Boxer put forward the “Count Every Vote Act.” The law would have made same-day registration the law of the land, expanded early voting and made election day a holiday. In addition, Clinton has been fighting against felon disenfranchisement, though Rand Paul, who has a penchant for receiving praise for things he hasn’t done, has recently been garnering credit for his talk on the subject.

These three reforms — automatic voter registration, an end to voter ID, and an end to felon disenfranchisement — are hugely important. (Clinton also pushed for an expansion of early voting and making election day a holiday, no doubt significant reforms in themselves.) A new study by Michael McDonald, Enrijeta Shino and Daniel Smith suggests that reforms that make voting easier (like early voting) increase turnout, while those that make it more difficult (like voter ID laws) decrease turnout. This is important because there is growing evidence that conservatives are using voter ID laws to suppress low-income and Black voters.

I recently examined the fact that restrictive voting systems were strongly correlated with racial stereotyping. I also found that voter ID laws were correlated with racial resentment. When re-examining the evidence, I found something equally as stunning, between 2010 and 2014 the most racist states were significantly more likely to pass a photo voter ID law. Of the eight photo ID laws that were most strict, meaning that voters without acceptable identification must vote on a provisional ballot and also take additional steps after Election Day for it to be counted, all were in the top half of the racial stereotyping index.

Studies suggest that these laws are passed with partisan intent, and there is evidence that they reduce voter turnout among the poor and people of color, by acting as a de facto poll tax.

Automatic voter registration would add 50 million people to the voting rolls, according to a recent estimate by Michael Waldman, president of theBrennan Center. As my chart below, created using Census data, shows, the beneficiaries will disproportionately be low income people, who are less likely to be registered.

Will these voters turnout to vote? It’s impossible to tell, because automatic voter registration has never been tried (Oregon has passed a law, but it has yet to implemented). However, there are reasons to suspect it would. We know that registration is an impediment to voting, and reduces voter turnout. A study that randomly assigned streets for a registration drive found that streets that were targeted had higher turnout than the control. A recent literature review by elections expert Tova Wang finds laws like same-day registration and motor voter, which made registration far easier, increased turnout, particularly among the poor. Recent research by Elizabeth Rigby and Melanie Springer shows that boosting registration is the most effective way to reduce the class bias of the electorate.

In addition, we know that once people are registered, it becomes more likely they will be mobilized. Election reforms work in tandem with GOTV campaigns and other advocacy actions. In a study of state legislative elections, Peter Francia and Paul S. Herrnson find, “there is a statistically significant and positive interactive effect of campaign spending, party GOTV efforts and Election Day registration on turnout.” That is, a district with high levels of campaign spending and party GOTV efforts and Election Day registration has turnout 11 points higher than a district that has high levels of campaign spending and GOTV but not EDR. Using the ANES, I find a significant mobilization gap between registered and non-registered Americans.

In an investigation of what caused voter turnout to decline between the 1960s and the 1980s, political scientists Steven J. Rosenstone and John Mark Hansen find that a decrease in voter contacting accounts for half of the decline in turnout. The problem is, in the status quo, mobilization is biased by class. In her study of mobilization between the 1956 and 2004 elections, Andrea Louise Campbell finds that “both the Republicans and the Democrats are most likely to contact top income earners.” This was not always the case – the rate at which the Democratic Party reached out to high income voters increased nearly four-fold between 1980 and 2004. In 2004, high income Americans were nearly three times likely to be mobilized by the parties, likely a significant contributor to class bias in turnout, which has dramatically shifted policy in favor of the rich. It’s not just parties that would have more incentive to target voters: labor unions, advocacy organizations and mass participatory groups would have a new pool of Americans to try to win over. Politicians would be forced to pay attention the concerns of the millions of Americans who are currently denied political voice.

Clinton’s stand against felon disenfranchisement is also significant: by reducing turnout among low-income Americans and Blacks, who are disproportionately likely to be caught up in the criminal justice system, it diverts precious resources away from their communities. While it’s unclear whether there will be any action on Clinton’s proposals, it’s clear that their effect on democracy would be profound.

The right wing fears the vote because it knows that voting is power. In 1977, Reagan was horrified by Carter’s push for universal registration, worrying that it would make the Republican party “dead as a the Dodo bird.” Recently Noah Rothman wrote in Commentary, “It will never be popular to oppose extending voting rights to what Daniel Foster calls, perhaps uncharitably, ‘civic idiots,’ but there is something to be said for privileging the informed voter.” His argument is reminiscent of William Buckley’s famous defense of Jim Crow, “The great majority of the Negroes of the South who do not vote do not care to vote, and would not know for what to vote if they could. Overwhelming numbers of White people in the South do not vote. Universal suffrage is not the beginning of wisdom or the beginning of freedom… The problem in the South is not how to get the vote for the Negro, but how to equip the Negro-and a great many Whites-to cast an enlightened and responsible vote.”  The language is is changed, but the rhetoric is the same: supremacy before democracy.

The end result of policies that restrict the franchise is to divert political influence away from people of color and low-income people and towards wealthy whites. Eliminating barriers to voting would be nothing less than a transformation of American democracy. That’s why conservatives are so terrified.

This piece originally appeared on Salon. 

How the prison-industrial complex is corrupting American elections

Voting matters. Though many Americans believe that voting is either useless or merely a civic duty, in reality it carries huge consequences for the decisions of politicians. There is overwhelming evidence that politicians are more responsive to the preferences of voters than non-voters, and that voting affects government policy. These facts have key implications for policies that disenfranchise individuals who would otherwise vote. Indeed, America’s racist voting practices continue to disenfranchise the poor and communities of color, robbing them of billions in public funding.

In a pioneering 2013 study, Elizabeth Cascio and Ebonya Washington examined how the elimination of literacy tests, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, affected the distribution of public spending. They find that removing literacy tests increased per capita state transfers by 0.57 percent for each percentage point increase in the Black population share. This equates to a 16.4 percent relative increase over the 20 year period they studied for the average county, a large difference. They find that a key change was educational spending: removing literacy tests lead to more spending directed at Black students, a better pupil-to-teacher ratio and higher Black school enrollment. This study is supported by other research suggesting that women’s suffrage lead to increased spending on healthcare, which prevented 20,000 child deaths each year. A 2003 study by Paul Martin finds that members of Congress push more funding towards districts with higher voter turnout. The effect he finds is not small. He provides as an example Grant County, which had a population of 30,000 received $18,030,000 in federal grants in 1994. Each percentage point increase in turnout would have boosted spending by $21,420.

Today, literacy tests and poll taxes are banned (though voter ID laws are oftenessentially poll taxes), but states can still disenfranchise felons. Because of race and class disparities in the criminal justice system, the impact of disenfranchisement hits communities of color and low-income communities the hardest.

We would expect, for example, given the studies above, that felon disenfranchisement would reduce spending for communities disproportionately affected by mass incarceration. And a new study by Brice Richard confirms this, finding that the impact of disenfranchisement is profound. Richard finds in particular that an extra percentage point of voter turnout leads to a 2 percent to 3 percent increase in per capita spending. The chart below shows that turnout is lower in disenfranchising states, and that state to county transfers are also lower.

By exploiting the differences in disenfranchisement across states, he finds that disenfranchisement may have reduced public spending by as much as 18 percent. The total impact of disenfranchisement is $1.8 billion in public goods that otherwise would have flowed towards high poverty communities and those with large Black populations. The impact is particularly strong regarding education spending; Richard estimates that each child in a disenfranchising state lost out on $640 in educational spending, with the impact concentrated on Black students. As the chart below shows, transfers to Black communities and poor communities is far lower in disenfranchising states than non-disenfranchising states.

One possible reason why the effects of disenfranchisement are so powerful is that voting tends to become a social norm. Voting correlates with other civic behaviors. Being socialized in a community where voting is the norm increases an individual’s propensity to turnout. Indeed, in households where parents vote, children are more likely to. If a household receives a get-out-the-vote message, the member of the household that does not answer the door is more likely to vote than otherwise. Disenfranchisement then, will reduce the social norm for voting, potentially having effects beyond only the individual who is disenfranchised.

Disenfranchisement is not the only mechanism working against the Black vote. In another study, four political scientists showed how premature death among the black community robs them of important political clout. They find that premature death led to 1 million fewer Black votes in 2004, and while this wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the Presidential election, it would have affected state-level races. This premature death is the legacy of white supremacy and racism. In addition, Nathan Cohn has found that the legacy of Jim Crow has continued: African-Americans who were disenfranchised before the Voting Rights Act make up a smaller share of the electorate than younger African-Americans.

In a recent analysis, I found a strong correlation between the level of racial stereotyping in a state and the likelihood of the state having a voter ID law. I also found a correlation between racism and the openness of the voting system. I’ve also shown that ease of access is correlated with turnout, which isn’t surprising: numerous studies suggest that policies like same-day registration boost turnout. The impact is obvious: racism suppresses voting, meaning that less government spending goes to communities of color and low-income communities.

Many disenfranchised felons face a second blow: prison-based gerrymandering. In this practice, prisoners (who can’t vote) count toward the population of the area where they are incarcerated which affects how districts are drawn. Research suggests that when districts are drawn unequally, public funds are distributed unequally. In the wake of Baker v. Carr (which allowed federal courts to intervene in districting to protect the principle of “one person, one vote”), public funding shifted$7 billion towards previously underrepresented counties.

The stark reality of racism in this country is that it serves to undermine democracy. In a famous 2002 study, Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza find that felon disenfranchisement has influenced the outcome of numerous Senate races and at least one Presidential election. They estimate that 35 percent of disenfranchised felons would vote in a presidential election, and 20.5% in a midterm election. In the 2014 election, Michael McDonald estimates that 3,445,233 felons were disenfranchised.  Although opposition to felon disenfranchisement has traditionally come from the progressive side (Hillary Clinton has long opposed the practice) some conservatives, like Rand Paul, are starting to join the ranks.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Why the white working class doesn’t vote Democrat

What’s up with working-class whites? It’s a question that’s been asked for decades, and has been raised again recently in the discussion surrounding an Alec MacGillispiece examining Matt Bevin’s recent election gubernatorial win in Kentucky, which could leave many in Kentucky without Medicaid. Though there are many explanations for why working class whites vote Republican and many are certainly true, the overwhelming reason is rather simple: racism.

To see why working class whites — defined as non-Hispanic whites without a college degree, although there are extensive debates as to the best way to define “working class” — aren’t voting Democratic, I use the American National Election Studies 2012 survey. To begin, I examined raw vote shares among working class whites, and then vote shares among working class whites in the South (the former 11 states of the Confederacy) and non-South. Immediately, it is obvious that a key divide is the South/non-South distinction: only 28 percent of Southern working class whites identify as Democratic, compared with 40 percent of non-South working class whites.

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Next, I examined whether racial stereotyping had any effect. The stereotype question asks respondents to rate Blacks on a scale of 1 (hard-working) to 7 (lazy). I examined the party identification of working class whites in each category and the results are rather suggestive: among working class whites who ranked Blacks as hard-working, 40 percen were Democrats and 38 percent Republicans, among those who said Blacks are lazy, 20 percent were Democrats and 60 percent were Republicans.

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But how does this affect the votes of working class whites? My next analysis teases out whether social issues play a role in white votes, as Thomas Frank has suggested; whether it’s concerns about the role of government, as John Judis (and others) have argued; or whether it’s racism, as Ian Haney-Lopez has argued.

Specifically, I examine three questions that allow respondents to place themselves on a scale and also place the major parties (or candidates) on the same scale. I examine three questions: a four-point scale regarding abortion, a seven-point scale regarding government services and spending and a seven-point scale regarding aid to Blacks (see here for exact wording). The first two ask respondents to put themselves on a scale and also place the Republican and Democratic party on the scale, the last asks the respondents to place themselves as well as Mitt Romney and Obama on the scale (this may skew results because people may perceive Obama as more supportive of aid to Blacks than Democrats in general, likely because of racism).

I find that 62 percent of working-class whites either put Romney at the same place as them on aid to Blacks or within 1 point in either direction, compared with only 35 percent of working-class whites who felt that way about Obama. About 40 percent of working class whites placed themselves at the same place or within one point in either as Democrats on government services or spending, compared with 53 percent who perceived closeness with the Republican party. On the abortion scale 31 percent of respondents placed themselves as the same as Republicans, compared with 39 percent who felt the same way about Democrats. Because abortion was only a four point scale, I didn’t compare what percentage of people placed themselves within one point of either party (the chart shows the percentage placing themselves the same as the parties).

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Working class whites say they are overwhelmingly more liberal than the Republican party on abortion and modestly more liberal on government services and spending. However, they are more conservative than Romney on aid to Blacks. When compared to the Democratic party, working class whites say they are more conservative on abortion (only slightly) and dramatically more conservative on services and spending. More than 70 percent of working class whites say they are more conservative than Obama on aid to Blacks. This suggests that working class whites see themselves as far closer to the Democratic party on abortion and further away from the party on services and spending. They see themselves furthest away from Obama on the issue of aid to Blacks.

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These results are suggestive, and they fit into a broader academic literature. In a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Ilyana Kuziemko and Ebonya Washington find that racism can explain almost all of the decline of Southern white support for Democrats between 1958 and 2000. Larry Bartels performed a similar (although far more detailed) analysis in a 2006 paper criticizing Frank and found similarly, that working class voters were closer to Republicans on economic and racial issues, but agreed with Democrats on abortion and women’s role in the family. In his masterful work, “Why Americans Hate Welfare,” Martin Gilens finds that opposition to welfare is driven by racial stereotypes about blacks. In a seminal book, “Race and the Decline of Class in American Politics,” Robert Huckfeldt and Carol Weitzel Kohfeld show that the more a state-level Democratic party relies on Black votes, the less likely low income whites in the states were to vote Democratic. Ian Haney-Lopez argues that Republican politicians have consciously played up racial tensions and animosity to peel white votes away from the Democratic party.

Another clue comes from the fact that working class Latinos and Blacks all overwhelmingly prefer Democrats, and the non-white working class as a whole prefers Democrats to Republicans 68 percent to 16 percent. The only defectors are the white working class.

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So if the working class generally likes Democrats (with the exception of working-class whites), why do Democrats lose elections? The key is turnout, a point MacGillis makes, citing some of my research.

The core question then, for Democrats, is how to mobilize the low-income voters who are disproportionately harmed by Republican policies. Here, the Affordable Care Act includes a self-inflicted wound by Democrats. For decades, many states have failed to meet the NVRA requirement, which states that Medicaid offices and other public assistance agencies ask recipients whether they want to register to vote. Further, NVRA covers the federally mandated health care exchanges, but the Obama administration has failed to require the exchanges to offer participants an opportunity to register to vote. Both offer a huge missed chance to register millions of new voters, disproportionately low-income and non-white.

Understanding why Democrats have lost working-class whites is a key to understanding the future. On the positive side, the decline of the white working class and the increasing racial diversity of the nation could help Democrats, if they could mobilize non-white members of the working class to vote at the same rate as working class whites. As I’ve noted, the rise in diversity of the general population has only slowly been reflected in the diversity of the electorate. On the other hand, the idea that Democrats are losing votes because of their socially progressive stances on abortion and gay rights are clearly incorrect. Further, while it’s clear that economic progressivism might struggle because Americans fail to link public policy to rising inequality, there is also evidence that many economically progressive policies are popular.

The problem, as new research by political scientists Torben Iversen and David Soskice shows, is that the U.S. doesn’t have a strong union movement to mobilize low income people. As they note, and as Fowler and Michele Margolis show, another factor is information: When people are informed they shift their toward the Democratic party. Political scientists Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler note that people who see greater differences between the parties were more likely to vote, but low-income people are less likely to perceive large differences. Progressives must see registering and mobilizing low-income voters as a central priority. Supporting unions,which serve an important role in mobilizing the working-class, is also vital. However, progressive must also give the working class a good reason to vote for them.

This piece originally appeared on Salon

Education alone can’t solve America’s racial wealth gap

Earlier this month, the United States marked the 50th anniversary of the Selma voting rights marches. While much has changed since, racial wealth gaps have persisted over the past 30 years and even grown since the Great Recession. Today the richest 10 percent of white families own 65.1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

In a new report (PDF), Brandeis University’s Institute for Assets and Social Policy (IASP) and Demos, a progressive think tank where I work as a researcher, investigate what it would take to close this gap. The report concludes that racial disparities in wealth are driven by public policy decisions and calls for “racially aware policies” that could help reduce America’s rising wealth inequality. This includes eliminating disparities in homeownership rates, college graduation and the return on a college degree as well as the wealth return on income.

Education

Conservatives and centrist commentators often present college education as a near panacea to reduce the racial wealth gap. But the Demos/IASP report challenges this claim. It found that increasing graduation rates would reduce the wealth disparity between black and white people by only 1 percent and between Latinos and whites by 3 percent. There are many possible reasons for this. For one, students of color take out more in student loans than white students. The debt burden detracts from wealth-building opportunities over a graduate’s lifetime. In addition, people of color are less likely to get into the most selective schools and face discrimination in labor markets after graduation. As a result, black and Latino students do not reap the same gains from a college education as their white counterparts.

In fact, race is a far greater determiner of wealth than education. As Demos blogger Matt Bruenig pointed out last year, black college graduates have less wealth than white high school dropouts. Using a new model called the racial wealth audit, Demos/IASP researchers found that the racial wealth gap between white and black families would be reduced 10 percent if the returns on college education could be equalized. But that’s not nearly enough to close the divide.

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Income

Bruenig’s previous research found that blacks and Latinos in the same income brackets have less wealth than whites. The Demos/IASP report confirms these findings: Black and Latino households with similar income distribution as whites would still face a substantial wealth gap. Eliminating income gaps would reduce the wealth gap by only 11 percent for black people and 9 percent for Latinos. Among black households, the average family would own $92,545 less wealth than an average white family. The average Latino family would own $94,033 less wealth than the average white family. This is because income distribution only tells part of the story. The remaining gap can be explained, in part, by the differences in opportunities to turn wages and salaries into wealth.

Controlling for the differential returns on every dollar of income shows a far greater effect on wealth disparity. In fact, for every $1 that accrues to black families with an increase in income, white families earn $4.06. For every $1 in wealth for additional income to Latinos, white families earn $5.37. The racial wealth audit shows that equalizing the return on income could reduce the wealth gap with white households by 43 percent for black households and by 50 percent for Latino households. But black and Latino families earning the same incomes as white families will still have only half the wealth.

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It may be surprising to those who think that racial equity depends on equal opportunities in the labor market alone. But it’s important to remember that income is a flow, while wealth is a stock. White families have been building up wealth for centuries, thanks in part to the enslavement of black people and discrimination against blacks and Latinos, who were excluded from those gains.

A 2004 paper from economists Maury Gittleman and Edward Wolff provides some hint as to why income equity cannot solve the racial wealth gap. After controlling for income and with a similar return on capital, the authors found that black families save at the same rate as whites. Previous IASP research corroborates their findings (PDF). Differences in wealth outcomes are explained by factors such as inheritance, home ownership and unemployment.

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As shown in the chart above, in another study (PDF), Wolff and Gittleman demonstrate that black and Latino families are far less likely to receive wealth transfers and that when they do, they tend to be smaller. Wealth transfers include inheritances and tax reductions, which disproportionately benefit white people. In fact, wealth transfers are the most unequal aspect of the wealth disparity. The Gini coefficient, the most common measure of inequality, runs from 0 (in which all wealth transfers are equal) to 1 (in which one household receives all wealth transfers). In 2007 the Gini of wealth transfers (primarily inheritances) was 0.961, compared with a 0.489 posttax and transfer Gini of income in the same year (PDF). That is, the distribution of wealth transfers is twice as unequal as the distribution of income. Even when households that did not receive a wealth transfer are excluded from the analysis, the Gini is still at 0.814. That means nearly all the wealth transfers in the U.S. go to a small group of people at the top.

Millennials

The Demos/IASP report also shows the deficiency in the way millennials understand race in the United States. This is worrying given the fact that the millennial generation is often said to be postracial. Millennials are more likely to believe that racial disparities should be allowed to correct themselves than their parents are. In many ways, their views align with those of conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who in 2007 argued, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” However, it ignores the effects of history and how wealth replicates itself. In his pioneering book “The Son Also Rises,” historian Gregory Clark notes that:

Groups that seem to persist in low or high status, such as the black and the Jewish populations in the United States, are not exceptions to a general rule of higher intergenerational mobility. They are experiencing the same universal rates of slow intergenerational mobility as the rest of the population. Their visibility, combined with a mistaken impression of rapid social mobility in the majority population, makes them seem like an exception to a rule. They are instead the exemplary of the rule of low rates of social mobility.

Clark found that the residual effects of family wealth remain for 10 to 15 generations. A family’s wealth cache simply won’t go away without dramatic changes.

Even more concerning, the notion that racial inequality can take care of itself is not only embraced by white millennials but also by millennials of color (though to a lesser extent). This means that the institutionalized structural barriers to racial equity are not receiving enough attention. Many Americans fail to understand how much more unequally wealth and financial assets are distributed than income.

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To parrot Roberts, the best way to reduce the racial wealth gap is to reduce the racial wealth gap — not simply to increase access to education or income. Policies that bolster home ownership — the leading wealth asset for most middle-class families — and those that reduce neighborhood segregation will do far more to close the wealth gap than changes in education. Other progressive ideas such as a baby bond program, which establishes wealth-building opportunities for those who have been excluded from them in the past, could substantially reduce wealth gaps.

Deeply entrenched wealth disparity is the product of history. Eliminating it entails reckoning with history as well as robust public policy reform. Ideological commitments to equality of opportunity without policy action won’t be enough.

This piece originally appeared on Al Jazeera

Republican policies don’t help people of color

The United States continues to struggle with persistent racial gaps. There are large gaps between blacks and whites in terms of income, political representation, treatment in the criminal justice system, upward mobility and wealth. And the illusion of a postracial society, particularly in the younger generation, is hindering efforts to reduce these gaps. While Democrats say they are trying to alleviate racial gaps by increasing the ladders of opportunity for people of color, Republicans continue to pretend these gaps do not exist.

In their study “Racial Winners and Losers in American Party Politics,” political scientists Zoltan Hajnal and Jeremy Horowitz examine the two parties’ claims that their policies benefit racial and ethnic minorities. According to Hajnal’s and Horowitz’s research, Republican policies predominately benefit the richest white Americans. An oft-repeated defense of this fact is that Republicans make the pie bigger for everyone while Democrats work to redistribute wealth to the poor and people of color. The evidence demonstrates that, on the contrary, Democrats make the pie bigger for everyone, while Republicans redistribute income toward the rich and whites. (See chart below.)

The popular criticism that both parties are the arms of a corporate America also misses the granular changes that shape income distribution. As political scientist Nathan Kelly has shown (PDF), Democratic governments don’t just shift the income distribution with explicitly redistributive programs; they change pretax income distributions to favor the wealthy through what he terms market conditions such as regulation. Sociologists David Brady and Kevin Leicht find the same effect from right-wing governments, both before and after taxes and transfers. The changes combine to dramatically improve the income distribution under a Democratic president.

Hajnal and Horowitz looked at available data for changes in income, poverty and unemployment under every president since 1948. The authors lagged the data by one year since presidential actions take time to trickle down. For example, a decrease in black poverty in 2009 would be credited to George W. Bush’s administration. As shown in the table below, all racial and ethnic groups appear to benefit economically more under Democratic administrations than Republican ones.

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Although they still benefit significantly more from a Democratic president, the gap between the two parties is the smallest for whites. Hajnal and Horowitz estimate that black poverty declined by 38.6 percent under Democratic leadership, while it grew by 3 percent under Republicans. From 1948 to 2010, black unemployment fell by 7.9 percentage points under Democrats and increased by 13.7 points during Republican administrations. Black income grew by $23,281 (adjusted for inflation) under Democrats and by only $4,000 under Republicans.

“Put simply: However measured, blacks made consistent gains under Democratic presidents and suffered regular losses under Republicans,” the authors said. While there’s limited data, the findings hold true for Latinos and Asians.

It appears at first glance that Republicans actively transfer income to whites through government. Of course, there could be another explanation for this phenomenon. In a study published last July, Princeton economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson found that from 1947 to 2013, gross domestic product, employment, corporate profits and productivity grew faster under Democrats than Republicans. The authors also noted that unemployment and deficits shrank and the economy climbed out of recession in less time under Democrats. (See chart.)

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Blinder and Watson attribute half these benefits to productivity shocks, consumer expectations and favorable economic conditions. They leave the other half unexplained, but studies suggest that liberal policies increase growth by boosting wages and perceptions about income security. By contrast, Republican policies slow growthand immiserate the population. The researchers also found that the economy grew even faster when Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the presidency.

It might appear that Democrats are better at managing the economy. However, as Hajnal and Horowitz point out, economic growth alone is not enough to explain racial gaps under the two parties. In fact, the results remain unchanged even after controlling for factors such as inflation, the size of the labor force, the price of oil and GDP. They found that black incomes grew by $1,000 more each year under Democrats, while poverty fell 2.6 points faster and unemployment dropped by 1 point more.

Black income growth stalls when a Democratic president is paired with a Republican Congress. Furthermore, the longer Democrats are in power, the stronger the economic gains for blacks. By contrast, blacks fare worse when Republicans are in office longer. There are similar racial gaps in the criminal justice system. Black and white incarceration rates fell dramatically (a net of 61 fewer arrests per 1,000 residents) under Democratic presidents, while they increased (36 more arrests per 1,000 residents) under Republican leadership.

Last place aversion

This raises questions about why whites largely lean Republican in elections and who benefits from Republican control of our government. The answers are intertwined. As Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels explains, economic growth is shared far more equally under Democratic presidents than under Republicans. (See chart below.) Contrary to popular belief, the incomes of the very rich increase more under Democrats than they do under Republicans. While pretax and transfer incomes are rather similar, the main shift occurs posttax and transfer.

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Similarly, in absolute terms, whites do better under Democratic than under Republican leadership. But that doesn’t really matter. People weigh their well-being relative to those around them. There is strong evidence that whites often oppose actions against inequality because of “last place aversion,” the desire to ensure that there is a class of people below oneself. Among white voters, racial bias is strongly correlated with lower support of redistributive programs. For example, research shows that opposition to welfare is driven by racial anger. Approximately half of the difference between social spending in the U.S. and Europe can be explained by racial animosity.

Democrats enjoy a broad-based support among the American electorate. But they lose elections because of enthusiasm gap, which is attributed to the party’s inability to rally a diverse coalition of educated, working-class whites, people of color and unmarried women. By contrast, the Republican base is easy to mobilize, allowing them to turn the government into an efficient patronage machine for whites and the top 1 percent of U.S. earners, using what Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell University, calls the “submerged state” — subtle tax breaks and benefits such as marriage subsidies and the mortgage interest deduction.

All in all, those who claim that Democrats have abandoned the middle class or failed blacks are missing a larger story. While the Democratic Party has been imperfect in responding to the policy demands and preferences ofblacks and low-income voters, it has done a far better job of improving their condition than Republicans have. Conservatives’ attempts to rebrand themselves as beneficial to the working class or people of color will succeed only if voters remain unaware of their actual record.

This piece originally appeared on Al Jazeera.