Expert Commentary

Impact of race, ethnicity and immigration status on political participation

2012 study from Harvard, Brown and the University of Missouri on the factors that influence voting behavior in minority communities.

Research strongly suggests that individuals with deeper community roots and greater socio-economic resources are more likely to participate in civic and democratic life, particularly voting. Other relevant factors relating to such “political empowerment,” particularly for minority groups, include the degree to which there are already officials who come from minority groups and the stringency of the “rules of the game”  — voter ID laws, restrictions on absentee voting and preregistration requirements.

A 2012 study from Harvard, Brown and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, “The Impact of Race and Ethnicity, Immigration and Political Context on Participation in American Electoral Politics,” analyzes national survey data between 1996 and 2004 to understand how various factors correlate with political participation rates among minorities. Published in the journal Social Forces, the study makes unique contributions to the understanding of how group dynamics within minority communities influence individual participation.

The study’s findings include:

  • The importance of rootedness and socio-economic resources was partly confirmed, but the data contradict the “expectation from an assimilation perspective that low levels of Latino participation are partly attributable to the large share of immigrants among Latinos. In fact net differences show higher average Latino participation than previously reported.”
  • “Voter identification requirements have a substantially negative impact on the voting of all groups except for Asians (though there is no significant impact for registration on any group). Particularly strong negative effects are seen for blacks and Hispanics: a decrease in voting by 18% and 22% respectively. Even whites show dampened turnout associated with voter ID policies. Yet for Asians, strikingly, voter ID has the opposite effect, boosting turnout by nearly 30%.”
  • “The effect of having more than five co-ethnic public officials in the metropolitan area is positive and very strong for blacks, resulting in an increase of more than 30% in registration and more than 40 percent in voting.”
  • “More liberal absentee voting policies increase the odds of voting for whites, Latinos and Asians, although there is no effect for blacks.”
  • “Greater immigrant access to a social service safety net is the other state-level predictor that has some significant effects. These are positive for white, Latino and Asian voting. There are also strong positive effects shown for Asian registration: an increase in the odds of registering by almost 30%. There is no significant effect on registration for any other group and no significant effects at all for blacks.”
  • “Older people register and vote at higher rates. Marriage generally enhances registration and voting (the exception is voting among blacks where the coefficient is insignificant). However, for all groups (except for Asians in the voting model), having more children in the household depresses registration and voting. This suggests that children in this context are not social connectors but perhaps a time demand that conflicts with political participation.”

“Although electoral participation is ultimately something that people do in isolation in a voting booth, we have emphasized that it is also a collective act,” the authors conclude. “The significant associations shown here between these individual behaviors and indicators of the things group members have in common support the conclusion that the group context of participation influences choices to register and vote.”

Tags: elections, Latino, African-American