Studies: Voter ID laws skew turnout in favor of white Republicans, racial resentment predicts support for them

Two new papers are out showing that, as progressives have been saying for years, voter ID laws have racially discriminatory effects, and that racial resentment among whites is one of the strongest predictors of support for them.

The first paper, from three researchers at the University of California San Diego, examined the effect of strict voter ID laws (laws that require, not request, photo identification) on turnout, controlling for other factors such as electoral competitiveness (Was there a statewide election that year?), existing voting laws (Does the state have early voting, same day registration, etc.?) and other demographic variables (age, income, etc.). As the authors note, “The key test is not whether turnout is lower in strict voter ID states but instead whether the turnout gap between whites and non-whites is greater in strict voter ID states.” So it doesn’t do voter ID law proponents any good to point out that turnout went up among black voters in some states with strict voter ID laws in 2012; the question is whether it would have gone up more had the laws not been in place.

The answer to that question is yes. From ThinkProgress:

Can't Vote, via Daniel Lobo / Flickr

Can’t Vote, via Daniel Lobo / Flickr

“For Latinos in the general election, the predicted gap more than doubles from 4.9 points in states without strict ID laws to 13.5 points in states with strict photo ID laws,” the study found. That gap increased by 2.2 points for African Americans and by 5 points for Asian Americans. The effect was even more pronounced in primary elections.

The study found that strict voter ID laws had little impact on younger voters as a whole, while there were “small indications” that poorer Americans were adversely impacted, though likely not to the same degree racial minorities were.

Given that minorities tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, researchers were left with little doubt that strict voter ID laws were hurting Democratic candidates.

In a key finding, the study showed that “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place,” compared to just 3.6 percentage points for Republicans. Even worse for the left is the impact on the ideology of the electorate. “For strong liberals the estimated drop in turnout in strict photo identification states is an alarming 7.9 percentage points,” researchers found. “By contrast, strong conservatives actually vote at a slightly higher rate – 4.8 points – in strict ID states, all else equal.”

As previous research has found, the bulk of these effects come not from voters showing up at the polls and being turned away because they lack proper ID, but rather because they discourage people — many of whom have proper ID — from showing up in the first place. As it turns out, when you tell people that it’s harder to vote, they are less likely to turn out. When white people make it very clear that they are making it harder for black and brown people to vote, people in those same minority groups are likely to perceive the cost of voting as being higher, and are therefore less likely to turn out.

In short, voter ID laws reduce turnout for everyone, but they reduce turnout much more for people of color than they do for whites, and most people of color happen to be Democrats. There’s a reason why the people pushing these laws are, unanimously, white and Republican, and there’s a reason why Republican support for voter ID laws increases (from 94% to 99%) when you tell them that those laws will make it harder for people to vote.

Which brings us to the next study.

This one, published last year by the MIT Political Science Department, looked at a number of variables to identify predictors of an individual’s support of or opposition to strict voter ID laws. The study measured the relationship between support for strict ID laws and age, gender, ideology, education, race, geography, news consumption, attitudes toward voter fraud and racial resentment.

The results? Republican support for strict voter ID laws was, as noted above, near-universal. The laws are more or less taken as a given in party orthodoxy. However, controlling for partisanship produced a few interesting findings. Namely, while there were weak relationships between support for strict voter ID laws and ideology, along with attitudes toward voter fraud, racial resentment among white respondents was one of the single most predictive variables for strict voter ID law support:

So, to recap: Strict voter ID laws have partisan and racially discriminatory effects, and as such are supported by the partisans and racial groups that stand to benefit from them.

In other words, there is now data to support what progressives have been saying about these laws all along.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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