Racial Identity, Unemployment, and Voting Behavior in National-Level U.S. Elections
Eissa, Nada O
Since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, media narratives on the relationship between unemployment, racial identity, and voter behavior have diverged. Some commentators maintain that struggling white voters evinced a preference for then-candidate Donald Trump because of economic hardship alone, while other analysts argue that whites in economically depressed areas were more likely to vote for Trump in light of contemporaneous economic gains made by members of racial and ethnic minority groups. Using more than 12,000 county-level observations from 2009 to 2016 on unemployment rates by race from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and on presidential and gubernatorial general election results from the CQ Press Voting and Elections Collection, I examine whether the gap in unemployment rates has a substantial effect on party vote share in national-level U.S. elections after overall unemployment rates or the unemployment rate among a particular racial group and other demographic characteristics have been controlled for. The results of my empirical analysis suggest that the unemployment gap has a statistically significant—if small—association with party vote share after controlling for the level of unemployment among whites and among minorities, although there is no such association when controlling for the overall level of unemployment in a given county, nor is there a substantial association between party vote share and the change in the unemployment gap over time.
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