Objectives. Many cities in the United States have undergone or are undergoing racial transition from a majority white to a majority black population. Accompanying this is a change in the racial makeup of elections and officeholders. This article seeks to explain racial patterns in voter roll-off as a city undergoes racial transition.
Methods. Using a fixed-effects regression model, we analyze the level of voter roll-off (from the top-of-the-ballot mayoral contest) among black and white voters across Memphis City Council elections, from 1967 through 2003.
Results. The level of voter roll-off among racial groups is sensitive to the racial aspect of political change. Black voters are most likely to continue to vote in council contests when there is a racial choice among candidates, when blacks have previously been elected, and when blacks occupy the mayoralty and a majority of council seats. Whites are most likely to vote in racially competitive council contests, as well as when there are a large number of white candidates, and when whites hold a majority of the council seats.
Conclusions. In settings such as Memphis, where race has played a pronounced historic role, the racial context of political empowerment has a strong influence on electoral participation. Elections below the top-of-the-ballot become more salient, and political efficacy grows among racial group members when that cohort occupies institutional positions, particularly the majority of positions in a governing institution.