Don't Like Blacks? You'll Love Voter ID

Despite the rhetoric of GOP officials, it’s more than clear that voter ID laws are designed to depress turnout among traditionally Democratic groups. Attorney General Eric Holder has even gone so far as to attack the laws as glorified “poll taxes”—one of the mechanisms used during Jim Crow to keep African Americans from voting.

Regardless of where you fall politically, it seems like this should be objectionable to everyone. The United States had a long and hard path to universal suffrage, and voter suppression is a direct challenge to the idea that everyone counts and everyone should have a say. Unfortunately, there is a real divide on the desirability of voter ID laws; according to the latest survey from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication, support for voter identification is strongest among those who harbor negative opinions toward African Americans:

To assess attitudes toward African Americans, all non-African Americans respondents in the poll were asked a series of questions. Responses to these questions were combined to form a measure of “racial resentment.” Researchers found that support for voter ID laws is highest among those with the highest levels of “racial resentment.”

This link between racial resentment and support for voter identification persists even after you control for partisanship, ideology, and a range of other demographic variables. That said, there was a strong partisan division: Republicans were the most likely to hold negative attitudes toward blacks and support voter identification laws. This prevalence of racial resentment—the conjunction of anti-black feelings and traditional American moralism—among Republicans has more to do with the demographics of the party than anything else. The GOP is almost entirely white, and whites are the most likely to harbor negative opinions about African Americans.

This isn’t to say that Republicans are solely—or even somewhat—motivated by negative attitudes about blacks. But these results line up with a decade’s worth of data on the relationship between racial resentment and political belief. Last year, for example, Alan Abramowitz found a strong relationship between high levels of racial resentment and negative attitudes toward Barack Obama. And in 2010, researchers at the University of Washington found an equally strong relationship between racial resentment and support for the Tea Party.

You could say that I’m “playing the race card” here, but that really isn’t the case at all. Race might be the most important part of the American experience—it has profound implications for how we live, where we work, and what we believe about the size and role of government. If anything, this poll is a stark reminder of the extent to which race plays a powerful role in shaping our political attitudes, whether we realize it or not.

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