Earthquakes and Aftershocks: Race, Direct Democracy, and Partisan Change

Authors


  • This is a revised version of a paper presented at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Western Political Science Association, Portland, Oregon. Authors' names are presented alphabetically. We thank Matt Whittaker for his helpful research assistance.

Shaun Bowler is professor of political science, University of California, Riverside, 900 University Avenue, Riverside, CA 92521 (shaun.bowler@ucr.edu). Stephen P. Nicholson is assistant professor of political science, Georgia State University, University Plaza, Atlanta, GA 30303 (polsxn@langate.gsu.edu). Gary M. Segura is associate professor of political science, University of Washington, Box 353530, Seattle, WA 98195-3530 (gmsegura@u.washington.edu).

Abstract

Although dramatic partisan change among the electorate is infrequent, the issue agendas of parties may produce large shifts. A major cause of such change is the politics of race. In a political environment charged with racially oriented issues, racial groups often align themselves with different parties (as witnessed most recently in the American South). Yet, if racial appeals violate norms of equality, these appeals may rebound on the party using them. Consequently, members of the (white) racial majority and racially targeted minority may both move away from the offending party. Using data from the California Field Poll, we find that racially charged ballot propositions sponsored by the Republican party during the 1990s in California reversed the trend among Latinos and Anglos toward identifying as Republican, ceteris paribus, by shifting party attachments toward the Democratic party. Our results raise serious questions about the long-term efficacy of racially divisive strategies for electoral gain.

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