Tag Archives: voting rights act

Millennials Are More Racist Than They Think

News about race in America these days is almost universally negative. Longstanding wealthincome and employment gaps between whites and people of color are increasing, and tensions between police and minority communities around the country are on the rise. But many claim there’s a glimmer of hope: The next generation of Americans, they say, is “post-racial”—more tolerant, and therefore more capable of easing these race-based inequities. Unfortunately, closer examination of the data suggests that millennials aren’t racially tolerant, they’re racially apathetic: They simply ignore structural racism rather than try to fix it.

In 2010, a Pew Research report trumpeted that “the younger generation is more racially tolerant than their elders.” In the Chicago Tribune, Ted Gregory seized on this to declare millennials “the most tolerant generation in history.” These types of arguments typically cling to the fact that young people are more likely than their elders to favor interracial marriage. But while millennials are indeed less likely than baby boomers to say that more people of different races marrying each other is a change for the worse (6 percent compared to 14 percent), their opinions on that score are basically no different than those of the generation immediately before them, the Gen Xers, who come in at 5 percent. On interracial dating, the trend is similar, with 92 percent of Gen Xers saying it’s “all right for blacks and whites to date each other,” compared to 93 percent of millennials.

Furthermore, these questions don’t really say anything about racial justice: After all, interracial dating and marriage are unlikely to solve deep disparities in criminal justice, wealth, upward mobility, poverty and education—at least not in this century. (Black-white marriages currently make up just 2.2 percent of all marriages.) And when it comes to opinions on more structural issues, such as the role of government in solving social and economic inequality and the need for continued progress, millennials start to split along racial lines. When people are asked, for example, “How much needs to be done in order to achieve Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality?” the gap between white millennials and millennials of color (all those who don’t identify as white) are wide. And once again, millennials are shown to be no more progressive than older generations: Among millennials, 42 percent of whites answer that “a lot” must be done to achieve racial equality, compared to 41 percent of white Gen Xers and 44 percent of white boomers.

The most significant change has been among nonwhite millennials, who are more racially optimistic than their parents. (Fifty-four percent of nonwhite millennials say “a lot” must be done, compared with 60 percent of nonwhite Gen Xers.) And this racial optimism isn’t exactly warranted. The racial wealth gap has increased since the 2007 financial crisis, and blacks who graduate from college have less wealth than whites who haven’t completed high school. A new paper by poverty experts Thomas Hirschl and Mark Rank estimates that whites are 6.74 times more likely to enter the top 1 percent of the income distribution ladder than nonwhites. And Bhashkar Mazumder finds that 60 percent of blacks whose parents were in the top half of income distribution end up in the bottom, compared with 36 percent of whites.

As to how well whites and nonwhites get along, only 13 percent of white millennials say “not well at all,” compared with 31 percent of nonwhite millennials. (Thirteen percent of white Gen Xers and 32 percent of nonwhite Gen Xers agree.)

In a 2009 study using American National Election Studies—a survey of Americans before and after each presidential election—Vincent Hutchings finds, “younger cohorts of Whites are no more racially liberal in 2008 than they were in 1988.” My own analysis of the most recent data reveals a similar pattern: Gaps between young whites and old whites on support for programs that aim to further racial equality are very small compared to the gaps between young whites and young blacks.

And even though the gaps within the millennial generation are wide, as with the Pew data, there is also evidence that young blacks are more racially conservative than their parents, as they are less likely to support government aid to blacks.


Spencer Piston, professor at the Campbell Institute at Syracuse University, used ANES data and found a similar pattern on issues relating to economic inequality. He examined a tax on millionaires, affirmative action, a limit to campaign contributions and a battery of questions that measure egalitarianism. He says, “the racial divide (in particular the black/white divide) dwarfs other divides in policy opinion. Age differences in public opinion are small in comparison to racial differences.” This finding is, he adds, “consistent with a long-standing finding in political science.” Piston finds that young whites have the same level of racial stereotypes as their parents.


There is reason for an even deeper worry: The possibility that the veneer of post-racial America will lead to more segregation. The post-racial narrative, when combined with deep structural racism, leads to what sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls “racism without racists,” a system where racial gaps persist less because of explicit discrimination and more because of structural factors—things like the passage of wealth from generation to generation or neighborhoods that remain segregated because of past injustices.


We can see numerous examples of how the post-racial rhetoric is hampering a racial justice agenda. In Parents Involved in Community Schools Inc. v. Seattle School District, a 2007 case in which two school boards were sued for using racial quotas to ensure that schools were diverse, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the opinion, “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” This reasoning is pervasive in his decisions. When the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Roberts wrote that the country “has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” The results were immediate: Across the country, states began putting up barriers to voting, which the finds disproportionately affect black voters. Political scientists Keith Bentele and Erin O’Brien have concluded that the laws are indeed motivated by a desire to reduce black turnout—all proving that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was right when she noted in her dissent that the logic of the decision was akin to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”


It’s possible that the court will use the same “post-racial” logic someday for affirmative action, too. Or to strike down the Federal Housing Administration’s ban on housing actions that have a “disparate impact” on African-Americans, such as exclusionary zoning or lending practices that disproportionately penalize people of color. This is particularly important since the most important impediment to black upward mobility is neighborhood poverty.


The conservative stance on racism is to deny structural racism exists and therefore deny that the solution to racism lies in structural changes. Instead, conservatives view the way to end racial disparities as simply ignoring the issue and treating everyone equally. While this sentiment sounds nice, it means that children who are born into poverty and face structurally racist housing, criminal justice and education systems will never have equal opportunity. The conservative view was once lambasted by 19th-century economist Henry George as “insist[ing] 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.”


Yet many millennials subscribe to this view, with an MTV/David Binder poll finding only 39 percent of white millennials believe “white people have more opportunities today than racial minority groups.” By contrast, 65 percent of people of color feel that whites have differential access to jobs and other opportunities. Further, 70 percent of all millennials say “it’s never fair to give preferential treatment to one race over another, regardless of historical inequalities.”


And the irony is that having a black president has made this failure to acknowledge structural barriers to opportunity worse. Numerous studies find that the election of President Barack Obama has made whites, particularly young whites, sanguine about racial disparities in America. One study surveyed 509 people of all races before and after the 2008 election about their perceptions of discrimination against blacks. The youngest third in the sample were 11.7 percent less likely to perceive discrimination in the wake of Obama’s election than they were before, while the oldest third was 8.5 percent less likely. A study of college students at the University of Washington, also based on surveys before and after the 2008 election, finds that those polled were less likely to see the need for continued racial progress after Obama’s election. In the recent MTV study cited above, 62 percent of millennials (58 percent of people of color, 64 percent of whites) agreed that “having a Black President demonstrates that racial minority groups have the same opportunities as white people.”




A 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 58 percent of white millennials say discrimination affects whites as much as it affects people of color. Only 39 percent of Hispanic millennials and 24 percent of African-American millennials agree.


This is disturbing for the future of race in America. The Roberts vision of radical colorblindness has irreparably harmed racial progress. If young Americans buy into his vision of a colorblind society—and a large literature suggests they do—white America and black America will diverge further, creating a permanent underclass in which people of color are denied equitable access to the American dream.

This piece originally appeared on Politico

For the Effects of Voting, Look to Policy, Not Elections

President Obama’s recent comments on universal voting have spurred a debate about how such a policy would influence elections. On the Monkey Cage blog, John Sidesexamines the partisan consequences and argues that turnout would generally benefit Democrats, but that the effect would be modest. His own research, with Jack Citrin and Eric Schickler concludes, “although Democrats fare better in each scenario, few outcomes would have changed.” He does note that both the 2000 and 2004 elections would have been different with universal turnout.

While these questions are indeed interesting, I’m more interested in the policy consequences of universal turnout. After all, the most important political change in the last three decades hasn’t occurred between parties, but rather within parties: the Tea Party pulling the Republicans right and a more wealthy and elite Democratic party abandoning union-type policies.

So what do we know about the policy consequences?

  • William Franko, Nathan Kelly and Christopher Witko find that states with higher turnout inequality (more rich people voting than poor people) have higher income inequality. They find that the class bias in turnout affects the economic liberalism of the state legislature. Specifically, when class bias is low, the liberal opinions of the public translate into liberal policy. But when class bias is high, liberal public opinion has no effect on policy.

  • A similar study was recently performed by James Avery, who also finds, “states with greater income bias in turnout have higher levels of income inequality.” He reports that even after controlling for various factors (Gross State Product, the strength of labor, government ideology) his findings are “unambiguous.”
  • William Franko finds that states with lower turnout inequality have higher minimum wages, more generous State Child Health Insurance Program Benefits and more restrictive anti-predatory lending laws.1

  • Kim Hill and Jan Leighley find in two studies that states with a more pronounced turnout bias, social welfare spending is lower.
  • Timothy Besley and Anne Case find that, “Less costly voter registration— through motor-voter rules, or through day-of-polling registration—is generally associated with higher taxes, higher spending, and larger family assistance and workers’ compensation payments.”

In a previous Demos blog post, I briefly explored some international evidence supporting this argument. Here, I’d like to briefly explore some historical precedents.

  • John Lott and Lawrence Kenny find that extending the franchise to women increased the state government expenditures.
  • Kenny Whitby and Franklin Gilliam Jr. find that southern Democrats shifted their voting patterns on civil rights because of the mobilization of the southern black electorate.
  • Thomas Husted and Lawrence Kenny find that the elimination of poll taxes and literacy requirements lead to a “sharp” rise in welfare spending.

In none of these cases did one party permanently declare victory. Rather, the electoral calculus of one or both parties shifted. The reason we should have universal turnout is not to give one party permanent hegemony. In fact, Timothy Besley, Torsten Persson and Daniel Sturm find that party competition boosts growth, “political competition have quantitatively important effects on state income growth, state policies, and quality of Governors.” They estimate that the Voting Rights Act boosted long-term per capita income by 20 percent in states that were affected.

Universal voting would make democracy better by increasing the representativeness of politicians to the needs of those who currently don’t vote.

Note: Franko also replicated his study using validated data in the wake of Ansolabehere and Hersh.

This article originally appeared on Policyshop.

Ten Questions for Gracia Hillman

Gracia Hillman, Demos’ newest fellow, is contributing to the organization’s efforts to expand the freedom to vote for all of America’s citizens. Hillman’s areas of expertise include voter engagement, voting rights, election administration, as well as the interests and rights of women, racial minorities and people with disabilities. 

From 2003 to 2010, Hillman was a commissioner of the Election Assistance Commission, serving as its chair in 2005. Her distinguished professional experience also includes having served as Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State, Executive Director of the US League of Women Voters, and Executive Director of the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation.

What inspires you to work tirelessly on voting rights?

My grandparents were immigrants to the United States in the early 1900s and there’s a large Cape Verdean community in New England, particularly in the New Bedford, Massachusetts area, because of the whaling trade. It became apparent in the early seventies while the United States was going through its major course correction on civil rights, integration and equal opportunity that Cape Verdean Americans were not being elected to office. At that time you had to go either to City Hall or to the fire station or the public library so I organized a small group of people to bring voter registration activities to public housing projects. That was my first foray into elections, and I began to realize the impediments that stopped people from fully participating in elections and also the possibilities.

What drew you to Demos?

I became familiar with Demos when I served on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and I greatly appreciated its commitment to fairness and access to the franchise. I also have tremendous respect for Miles Rapoport who I met when he was Secretary of State of Connecticut. [Rapoport is the former president of Demos, who left in March 2014]

What work will you be pursuing as a Demos Senior Fellow?

I will be looking at election administration—the things that advocates and individuals in communities need to stay on top of potential changes to voter ID requirements or other changes officials may be contemplating. I will also be forging working relationships with people who are the chief election official for their jurisdiction, to ensure that officials will explore with the community what the impact of any potential change might be and look for new ideas that are cost effective that can work to make sure that everybody has equal access to voting.

What contemporary connection do you see between women’s rights and voting?

Elections open up a whole dialogue about getting a community engaged and particularly for low-income women. Low-income women really get the brunt of all the changes to public policy procedure and they’re left to fend for themselves. When women have access to resources and are engaged in the changes it makes the transition a lot easier. Any time the community is going to go through any change with election procedures with voting rights issues it affects families.

Tell us your thoughts about the confluence between economic and political power.

Certainly economic power affects political participation to the extent that elected officials need money to get their job and to hold onto their job. Legislators have to spend an inordinate amount of time raising the money as the cost of running for even a state legislative seat is just getting obscene. Politicians dance to a tune and individuals and groups come to the table with money more often than not for that very purpose. The little guy gets left out. Even while we resolve the situation of minimizing the influence of the big bucks we also must stop the partisan political shenanigans that prevent voting process from being fully open.

You’ve worked on the local, state, and federal levels. What’d you learn from those experiences?

One of the things that irked me throughout the 80s were nationally organized efforts to do grassroots activities. When I worked at Operation Big Vote we had a coalition model and all communities had to work on their efforts through a coalition. The coalition was convened and organized by local groups. Our end goal was not only to increase the number of African-Americans who were registered and voting but also have a model left behind so the community could continue to use it throughout time for any election.

You’ve also worked at the international level. How does your work on elections in Asia, Africa and Europe inform your understanding of U.S. democracy?

One big lesson is that sometimes simple is better. Countries that knew they had a high level of illiteracy would have to use a symbol or a candidate’s picture so that people could instantly recognize who it was they were voting for. The United States used to be hailed as a great example for voter registration and voter education activities, but now  we’ve made it so darn complicated. Other countries are more willing to use technology so that people can vote from phones or other mobile devices and the goal is to encourage people to vote, rather than restrict voting because you have to be in a particular place on a particular date during particular hours.

You worked on the Dukakis campaign for President. Dukakis is a big hero of mine. Tell me about that experience. 

At that time I had been asked to serve as Executive Director for the Congressional Black Caucus foundation and I said, “well it better be interim, because when Dukakis becomes the Democratic nominee I’m going to go to the campaign full time.” They laughed because they didn’t think he had a chance. Lo and behold it was just a really well-thought out and structured campaign. There were some blips and I think the unraveling of it was whenBernard Shaw asked the governor the question about if his wife had been raped and murdered. That put the campaign in a tail-spin and Republicans used the Willie Horton issue, the death penalty and work release programs.

You brought up Willie Horton. That raises the question of the criminal justice system and voting.

We have a criminal justice system that operates on the principle that if you’re convicted and you serve your time, that you come back and are in a rehabilitative process so you will be a productive citizen. We say that, but we don’t behave that way. For a few years I served on the board of an organization here in D.C. that serviced women who had been incarcerated and returning to their communities in D.C. Part of re-integrating into the community includes voting, so to permanently deny someone the right to vote makes little sense.

Drawing from your work at all levels, what measures do you think could be really beneficially going forward in the next decade?

We should establish uniform procedures across the fifty states, so that if you are eligible to vote in any of those jurisdictions and you move, it’s easier to get that registration transferred to the jurisdiction where you will vote. Even some states right now can’t communicate within the state agencies because the types of computer systems that are used by the individual agencies don’t communicate with each other. We have to work towards one form of voter identification that can be used and easily tracked throughout the country.

Originally published on Demos Policyshop.