Black Candidates, White Voters: A Numbers Game

Seven high-profile African-American politicians are currently running for a seat in the U.S. Senate or for governor. If all of these candidates win, it will surpass the total number of African Americans who have ever been popularly elected senator or governor.

But for any of them to succeed, they will have to clear a historically high hurdle for black politicians — winning white votes. Only one black politician, Douglas Wilder, has ever been elected governor in the United States. A recent analysis of voter patterns between 1982 and 2000 reveal some startling facts:

• Both black and white voter turnout increases up to 3 percentage points with each African-American Democratic Party candidate on the ballot, but does not increase significantly when the candidate is a black Republican.

• Whites of both the Republican and Democratic parties are less likely to vote for their parties' candidate when he or she is black, regardless of the politician.

• Nationally, white Republicans are 25 percent more likely on average to vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate when the GOP candidate is black.

• In races for the House of Representatives, white Democrats are 38 percent less likely to vote for their party's candidate if that candidate is black.

• Whites who identify themselves as politically independent are more inclined to vote for a white Democrat than a black Republican.

Source: Quarterly Journal of Economics

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