Race Impacts State Legislators’ Responsiveness To Inquiries From Constituents

Daniel M. Butler and David E. Broockman have an interesting paper out title “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators” (PDF). The method was to email several thousand state legislators asking for help registering a constituent to vote. Sometimes the would-be voter was “DeShawn Jackson” (presumably a black guy) and sometimes it was “Jake Mueller” (presumably a white guy). Race made a difference in the response rates, and it wasn’t partisan discrimination where Democrats cared more than Republicans about DeShawn, it was specifically racial. White legislators were more inclined to respond to Jake, black ones to DeShawn:

We use a field experiment to investigate whether race affects how responsive state legislators are to requests for help with registering to vote. In an email sent to each legislator, we randomized whether a putatively black or white alias was used and whether the email signaled the sender’s partisan preference. Overall, we find that putatively black requests receive fewer replies. We explore two potential explanations for this discrimination: strategic partisan behavior and the legislators’ own race. We find that the putatively black alias continues to be differentially treated even when the emails signal partisanship, indicating that strategic considerations cannot completely explain the observed differential treatment. Further analysis reveals that white legislators of both parties exhibit similar levels of discrimination against the black alias. Minority legislators do the opposite, responding more frequently to the black alias. Implications for the study of race and politics in the United States are discussed.

There are various implications, of which one is that white Democratic elected officials seem to be shooting themselves in the foot with racist non-responsiveness to friendly constituents.