Is There A Connection Between Skin Color And How You Vote?


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Many political analysts and media pundits argue that the Republican Party has a “race problem” when it comes to national elections. The logic is that Latinos and Asian Americans constitute the two fastest growing segments of the population, and they tend to vote Democratic, most notably in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Projections suggest that the proportion of the electorate that is Latino and Asian American will continue to increase; therefore, the proportion of Republican votes will decline.
But two considerations should make us pause before ringing a death knell for the GOP.
First, research shows that Latinos and Asian Americans have weaker partisan attachments than blacks and whites. The battle for the allegiance of these largely uncommitted groups isn’t over yet.
Which Latinos and Asian Americans might be most susceptible to Republican appeals? Recent research suggests that social exclusion can lead Asian Americans to identify as Democrats. The idea is that upon experiencing discrimination, Asian Americans decide to ally themselves with minority constituencies that also experience discrimination, as well as the party thought to represent those constituencies – the Democratic Party. By this logic, those ethnic minorities most likely to lean Republican should be those least likely to suffer discrimination: those with light skin.
Consistent with this line of thinking, the relationship between skin color and partisan preferences among Latinos and Asian Americans is illustrated below. I begin by analyzing a nationally representative sample of Latino citizens interviewed as part of 2012 American National Election Studies (ANES). The following plots show predicted values of party identification and predicted probabilities of voting for Democratic candidates in 2012. These are based on analyses that also account for education, age, gender, income, and whether people were born in the United States.
The results show that lighter-skinned Latinos are more likely than darker-skinned Latinos to identify as Republican and to vote for Republicans. For example, in the 2012 election for Senate, the darkest-skinned Latinos are estimated to have a 98 percent chance of voting for the Democrat, whereas the lightest-skinned Latinos are estimated to have a 43 percent chance.
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