Past Differences

Kevin Lewis

April 29, 2021

“To Wage a War”: Crime, Race, and State Making in the Age of FDR
Matthew Denney
Studies in American Political Development, April 2021, Pages 16-56


The FDR administration waged a war on crime starting in 1933. I argue that this war on crime had three primary effects. First, it created a ratchet effect whereby expanded institutions did not return to previous levels after the campaign ended. Second, it instilled enduring institutional and racial logics into law enforcement in America. By building a state through a war on crime, these leaders constructed a criminal justice system designed to make war. Moreover, they perpetuated the surveillance of Black leaders and eschewed calls from Black organizations demanding protection from widespread racial violence. Third, these political entrepreneurs induced an issue realignment that defined crime policy around a politics of consensus — a consensus that included every major political bloc but Black Americans, who unsuccesfully called on the federal government to hold local police accountable and address racial inequality. This coalition diffused their methods to states and deployed future wars on crime, and the racial logics cemented in the FDR era set the stage for these future wars to be deployed disproportionately against the Black community.

Identifying Taste-Based Discrimination: Effect of Black Electoral Victories on Racial Prejudice and Economic Gaps
Jung Sakong
Federal Reserve Working Paper, March 2021


The Obama presidency intensified discussions of how electing a black leader affected white Americans' attitude toward black Americans. I test for its causal impact using black electoral victories in local elections. Using Race Implicit Attitude Test scores as a measure of racial prejudice and close-election regression-discontinuity design for causal inference, I find black electoral victories cause racial bias to rise, by 4% of the average black-white difference. Simultaneously, they cause larger racial gaps in unemployment and mortgage denial. Interpreting these close electoral victories as instrumental variables, I find a large causal effect of prejudice-based racial discrimination on black-white economic gaps.

Racial Equality Frames and Public Policy Support: Survey Experimental Evidence
Micah English & Joshua Kalla
Yale Working Paper, April 2021


How do racial attitudes shape policy preferences in the era of Black Lives Matter and increasingly liberal views on racial issues? A large body of research finds that highlighting the benefits of progressive policies for racial minorities undermines support for those policies. However, Democratic elites have started centering race in their messaging on progressive public policies. To explore this puzzle, in this paper we offer an empirical test that examines the effect of describing an ostensibly race-neutral progressive policy with racial framing, as used by Democratic elites, on support for that policy. To benchmark these effects, we compare a race policy frame with class, race and class, and neutral policy frames. We demonstrate that despite leftward shifts in public attitudes towards issues of racial equality, racial framing decreases support for race-neutral progressive policies. Generally, the class frame most successfully increases support for progressive policies across racial and political subgroups.

Political Competition and Right-Wing Terrorism: A County-Level Analysis of the United States
Stephen Nemeth & Holley Hansen
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


While many previous studies on U.S. right-wing violence center on factors such as racial threat and economic anxiety, we draw from comparative politics research linking electoral dynamics to anti-minority violence. Furthermore, we argue that the causes of right-wing terrorism do not solely rest on political, economic, or social changes individually, but on their interaction. Using a geocoded, U.S. county-level analysis of right-wing terrorist incidents from 1970 to 2016, we find no evidence that poorer or more diverse counties are targets of right-wing terrorism. Rather, right-wing violence is more common in areas where “playing the ethnic card” makes strategic sense for elites looking to shift electoral outcomes: counties that are in electorally competitive areas and that are predominantly white.

Structuring local environments to avoid racial diversity: Anxiety drives Whites' geographical and institutional self-segregation preferences
Eric Anicich et al.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming


The current research explores how local racial diversity affects Whites' efforts to structure their local communities to avoid incidental intergroup contact. In two experimental studies (N = 509; Studies 1a-b), we consider Whites' choices to structure a fictional, diverse city and find that Whites choose greater racial segregation around more (vs. less) self-relevant landmarks (e.g., their workplace and children's school). Specifically, the more time they expect to spend at a landmark, the more they concentrate other Whites around that landmark, thereby reducing opportunities for incidental intergroup contact. Whites also structure environments to reduce incidental intergroup contact by instituting organizational policies that disproportionately exclude non-Whites: Two large-scale archival studies (Studies 2a-b) using data from every U.S. tennis (N = 15,023) and golf (N = 10,949) facility revealed that facilities in more racially diverse communities maintain more exclusionary barriers (e.g., guest policies, monetary fees, dress codes) that shield the patrons of these historically White institutions from incidental intergroup contact. In a final experiment (N = 307; Study 3), we find that Whites' anticipated intergroup anxiety is one driver of their choices to structure environments to reduce incidental intergroup contact in more (vs. less) racially diverse communities. Our results suggest that despite increasing racial diversity, White Americans structure local environments to fuel a self-perpetuating cycle of segregation.

Using High-Frequency Evaluations to Estimate Discrimination: Evidence from Mortgage Loan Officers
Marco Giacoletti, Rawley Heimer & Edison Yu
Federal Reserve Working Paper, March 2021


We develop empirical tests for discrimination that use high-frequency evaluations to address the problem of unobserved heterogeneity in a conventional benchmarking test. Our approach to identifying discrimination requires two conditions: (1) the subject pool is time-invariant in a short time horizon and (2) there is high-frequency variation in the extent to which evaluators can rely on their subjective assessments. We bring our approach to the residential mortgage market, using data on the near-universe of U.S. mortgage applications from 1994 to 2018. Monthly volume quotas reduce how much subjectivity loan officers apply to loans they process at the end of the month. As a result, the volume of new originations increases by 150% at the end of the month, while application volume and applicants’ quality are constant within the month. Owing to within-month variation in loan officers’ subjectivity, we estimate that Black mortgage applicants have 3.5% to 5% lower approval rates, which explains at least half of the observed approval gap for Blacks. When we use this approach to evaluate policies, we find that market concentration and FinTech lending have had no effect on lending discrimination, but that shadow banking has reduced discrimination presumably by having a larger presence in under-served communities.

My Group or Myself? How Black, Latino, and White Americans Choose a Neighborhood, Job, and Candidate when Personal and Group Interest Diverge
Jennifer Hochschild, Spencer Piston & Vesla Mae Weaver
Perspectives on Politics, forthcoming


Amid growing inequality within racial and ethnic groups, how do Americans decide where to live, where to work, and for whom to vote? While previous research has examined racial patterns in voting decisions, it provides less insight into individual-level decisions about neighborhoods, candidates, and employment — even while these decisions also organize the political world. We theorize about the role of a key variable stratifying these individual-level decisions: education. To test our argument, we analyze nationally representative survey data and a new survey experiment that varies incentives to leave one’s racial group environment. We find that among Blacks and Latinos, but not whites, those with higher levels of formal education are disproportionately likely to respond to incentives to leave their own group. We conclude with reflections on the implications of this educational divide for intra-racial inequality.

Gone For Good: Deindustrialization, White Voter Backlash, and US Presidential Voting
Leonardo Baccini & Stephen Weymouth
American Political Science Review, May 2021, Pages 550-567


Globalization and automation have contributed to deindustrialization and the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs, yielding important electoral implications across advanced democracies. Coupling insights from economic voting and social identity theory, we consider how different groups in society may construe manufacturing job losses in contrasting ways. We argue that deindustrialization threatens dominant group status, leading some white voters in affected localities to favor candidates they believe will address economic distress and defend racial hierarchy. Examining three US presidential elections, we find white voters were more likely to vote for Republican challengers where manufacturing layoffs were high, whereas Black voters in hard-hit localities were more likely to vote for Democrats. In survey data, white respondents, in contrast to people of color, associated local manufacturing job losses with obstacles to individual upward mobility and with broader American economic decline. Group-based identities help explain divergent political reactions to common economic shocks.

The long-term effects of the slave trade on political violence in Sub-Saharan Africa
Yu Zhang, Zhicheng Phil Xu & Shahriar Kibriya
Journal of Comparative Economics, forthcoming


This study investigates the long-term legacy of the slave trade on contemporary violence in sub-Saharan Africa. Using a geo-coded disaggregated dataset and exploiting within-country variation in slave trade intensity, we document a robust positive relationship between slave exports and contemporary conflict; the slave trade has long-lasting impacts on ethnic conflict and riots in particular. We examine the mechanisms underlying this persistence and find that the slave trade has weakened national identity, leading to a higher risk of ethnic conflict, and has also undermined economic development, which partly explains the relationship between the slave trade and riots. Furthermore, using the individual attitudes from the Afrobarometer survey, we show that the impact of the slave trade on national identity is mostly attributed to the inherited beliefs and norms rather than the external environment.

“I don't have time for drama”: Managing risk and uncertainty through network avoidance
Jamie Fader
Criminology, forthcoming


This study employs in‐depth interviews (n = 45) with men 25–34 years in age who live in a Philadelphia neighborhood heavily impacted by mass incarceration. It asks the following: 1) How do they perceive risk? 2) How do they organize their daily routines in response to it? 3) Are there racial differences in perceptions and adaptations to risk? Nearly all of the men of color in the study reported staying in their houses and avoiding public spaces, viewing them as unpredictable and posing an unacceptable level of risk. They worried about “drama” or the potential for interactions with others to lead to attention by the police. Their practice of “network avoidance” often meant a complete lack of engagement in their community. Network avoidance is a racialized adaptation to the expansion of the criminal legal apparatus and the unpredictable nature of men's interactions with its agents and enforcers. It reproduces the effects of incarceration by essentially turning their homes into prisons. Network avoidance effectively erases young men of color from the public sphere in the same way that incarceration removes them from their communities, with considerable costs for the men themselves and for their neighborhoods.


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