Racial Imagery and Support for Voter ID Laws

Previous research suggests that calls for voter ID laws include racialized appeals and that racial attitudes influence support for such laws. This study uses an experiment to test whether exposure to racial imagery also affects support for voter ID
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           1 3 Race and Social Problems  ISSN 1867-1748Volume 6Number 4 Race Soc Probl (2014) 6:365-371DOI 10.1007/s12552-014-9131-4 Racial Imagery and Support for Voter IDLaws David C. Wilson, Paul R. Brewer & Phoebe Theodora Rosenbluth           1 3 Your article is protected by copyright and allrights are held exclusively by Springer Science+Business Media New York. This e-offprint isfor personal use only and shall not be self-archived in electronic repositories. If you wishto self-archive your article, please use theaccepted manuscript version for posting onyour own website. You may further depositthe accepted manuscript version in anyrepository, provided it is only made publiclyavailable 12 months after official publicationor later and provided acknowledgement isgiven to the srcinal source of publicationand a link is inserted to the published articleon Springer's website. The link must beaccompanied by the following text: "The finalpublication is available at”.  Racial Imagery and Support for Voter ID Laws David C. Wilson  • Paul R. Brewer  • Phoebe Theodora Rosenbluth Published online: 2 October 2014   Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014 Abstract  Previous research suggests that calls for voterID laws include racialized appeals and that racial attitudesinfluence support for such laws. This study uses anexperiment to test whether exposure to racial imagery alsoaffects support for voter ID laws. The data come from asurvey experiment embedded in the 2012 CooperativeCongressional Election Study (  N   =  1,436) randomizingthe race of a voter and poll worker shown to respondents(African American voter and poll worker, white voter andpoll worker, or no image). The results show that whiterespondents who saw an image of an African Americanvoter and poll worker expressed greater support for voterID laws than those in the no image condition, even aftercontrolling for the significant effects of racial resentmentand political ideology. Exposure to an image of a whitevoter and poll worker did not produce a similar effect. Thefindings provide new evidence that public opinion aboutvoter IDlaws is racialized. Keywords  Voter ID laws    Survey experiment    Race   Imagery Introduction Voter identification (ID) laws require citizens to showproof of their identity before voting. The ID requirementsrange from lenient (stating one’s name) to strict (presentingphoto ID issued by a state or federal agency with a sig-nature). Numerous states have enacted voter ID laws, manyof them recently, and polling consistently indicates thatlarge majorities of the public favor such laws (e.g., PewResearch Center for the People and the Press 2012; Wilsonand Brewer 2013). Nevertheless, these laws continue to bethe subject of considerable public controversy (Bentele andO’Brien 2013). Supporters typically argue that they arenecessary to combat voting fraud. In contrast, opponentstypically argue that fraud is rare, that imposing additionalrequirements may prevent eligible citizens from voting,and that these requirements will disproportionately affectcertain groups in society, including African Americans.Expanding on the last point, some observers have arguedthat voter ID laws are discriminatory in intent, effect, orboth—and that the push for these ostensibly race-neutrallaws plays upon associations between racial stereotypesand perceptions of voter fraud (e.g., Hasen 2012; Minnite2007). For example, calls for such laws have includedcoded racial appeals revolving around allegations of fraudconcentrated in ‘‘urban’’ areas and perpetrated by com-munity organizations such as ACORN. Looking at thepolicy-making level, Bentele and O’Brien (2013) foundthat, all else being equal, states with higher proportions of African American voters have been particularly aggressivein pursuing restrictions on voting access, including photoID requirements.With all of this in mind, the present study builds onprevious research about the underlying structure of publicopinion about voter ID laws (Wilson and Brewer 2013) and D. C. WilsonDepartment of Political Science and International Relations,University of Delaware, 347 Smith Hall, Newark, DE 19716,USAe-mail: dcwilson@udel.eduP. R. Brewer ( & )Center for Political Communication, University of Delaware,190 Graham Hall, Newark, DE 19716, USAe-mail: prbrewer@udel.eduP. T. RosenbluthStrath Haven High School, 740 Harvard Ave., Swarthmore,PA 19081, USAe-mail:  1 3 Race Soc Probl (2014) 6:365–371DOI 10.1007/s12552-014-9131-4  the effects of racial imagery on public opinion (Gilliam andIyengar 2000; Mendelberg 2001; Valentino et al. 2002) to test whether exposure to racial imagery influences publicsupport for voter ID laws. Specifically, we analyze whethersupport differs depending on whether respondents in anational online survey saw no image when asked for theiropinion, saw an image of an African American voter andpoll worker, or saw an image of a white voter and pollworker. We also examine the effects of racial imageryacross levels of racial resentment (Kinder and Sanders1996; Wilson and Davis 2011) and ideological orientations among respondents.Race, Voter ID Laws, and Public OpinionA large body of research suggests that even as overtexpressions of racism have declined, subtler racial attitudescontinue to influence public opinion about both explicitlyrace-related policy topics such as affirmative action andostensibly non-racial policy topics such as the death pen-alty and welfare (e.g., Gilens 1996; Kinder and Sanders1996; Peffley and Hurwitz 2002). In particular, racial resentment—defined as an explicit feeling of animosity oranger toward African Americans who are perceived toreceive advantages, opportunities, and exceptions at theexpense of whites (Wilson and Davis 2011; see alsoFeldman and Huddy 2005; Kinder and Sanders 1996)—has been shown to influence white Americans’ opinions about arange of issues. Building on this research, Wilson andBrewer (2013) found that support for voter ID laws wasassociated with not only conservative political ideology(see also Alvarez et al. 2011) and beliefs about the prev-alence of voter fraud, but also (among non-AfricanAmerican respondents) racial resentment. Thus, Wilsonand Brewer concluded that the subject of voter ID laws iseffectively racialized in the minds of citizens.In suggesting that a racialized logic partially underliessupport for voter ID laws, Wilson and Brewer’s (2013)research raises the possibility that racialized appeals—including racialized imagery—may sway opinion about thetopic. Indeed, a sizable body of the literature indicates thatracial imagery can shape white Americans’ opinions abouta range of other topics, including ostensibly race-neutraltargets (Mendelberg 2001; Valentino et al. 2002). For example, Gilliam and Iyengar (2000) found that amongwhite experimental participants, exposure to imagery of anAfrican American suspect increased support for punitivecrime policies, whereas exposure to imagery of a whitesuspect had no discernible impact on opinion. The authorsargue that this effect reflects a ‘‘script’’ within public dis-course that associates violent crime and racial imagery.To date, no research has directly tested the impact of racial imagery on public opinion about voter ID laws.However, Wilson and Brewer’s (2013) research suggeststhat many white Americans implicitly associate AfricanAmericans with voter ID laws in ways that serve to justifysuch laws. For example, beliefs that African Americansare particularly likely to commit voter fraud—and are infact doing so—may reinforce perceptions that anti-fraudmeasures are necessary. Research on the effects of racialimagery, in turn, suggests that exposure to imagery of African American voters could prime any such associa-tions already existing within the minds of white Ameri-cans and thereby influence their opinions (Gilliam andIyengar 2000; Mendelberg 2001; Valentino et al. 2002). Accordingly, we hypothesize that white respondentsexposed to an image of an African American voter andpoll worker will express greater support for voter ID lawsthan those exposed to no image. We do not expectexposure to an image of a white voter and poll worker toproduce a similar effect.At the same time, we also consider the possibility thatthe effects of exposure to racialized imagery will differdepending on the receiver’s level of racial resentment andpolitical ideology. In regard to the former, previousresearch has shown that the effects of racialized appeals onpublic opinion can depend on the racial attitudes of thereceiver (Kinder and Sanders 1996; Mendelberg 2001; Valentino et al. 2002). If racial resentment is alreadyassociated with voter ID laws in the minds of whiteAmericans, as Wilson and Brewer (2013) found, thenseeing imagery of an African American voter may prime,or activate, such associations in memory and therebyinfluence opinion (see Mendelberg 2001; Valentino et al.2002). Thus, any effect of exposure to imagery of anAfrican American voter and poll worker on support forvoter ID laws may be stronger among those with higherlevels of racial resentment.Responses to racial imagery may also depend on theideology of the receiver. A large body of research dem-onstrates that Americans use their ideological orientationsto process new political information (for an overview, seeZaller 1992). Thus, respondents could interpret racialimagery in light of these orientations, particularly in waysthat are consistent with their existing beliefs through pro-cesses of motivated reasoning (Kunda 1990). For example,conservatives may tend to interpret such imagery in waysthat reinforce support for voter ID laws, whereas liberalsmay tend to form opposing interpretations. If so, then anyeffect of exposure to imagery of an African American voterand poll worker on support for voter ID laws may bestronger among conservatives than among liberals. 366 Race Soc Probl (2014) 6:365–371  1 3  Methods Survey and SampleWe use data from the 2012 Cooperative CongressionalElection Study (CCES), which employs a matched randomsample technique to survey members of an opt-in panelmanaged by YouGov Polimetrix. The CCES data are col-lected online, and the surveys take place in September (pre-election) and November (post-election) waves. The 2012CCES cooperation and response rates are 93 and 44 %,respectively (see Ansolabehere and Schaffner 2013).YouGov Polimetrix employs computational algorithms toallow for demographically representative samples to bedrawn within each state and congressional district.Respondents first complete a questionnaire with ‘‘corecontent’’ administered to all participants, and then arerandomized to complete ‘‘team content’’ questionnairescreated by groups of scholars who take advantage of therelatively large CCES sample size (  N   =  54,535). Ouranalysis uses data from a cross section of 1,436 US adultrespondents participating in one of the team content sur-veys during the pre-election wave. Whereas traditionalexperimental analyses rely on convenience samples, theCCES data afford us the advantage of a national adultpopulation. Of the respondents in the sample, 54 % werewomen and 47 % were men. In terms of education, 3 %had less than high school education, 53% had a high schoollevel of education, 10 % had 2-year degrees, and 34 % had4-year degrees or higher. In terms of race and ethnicity,80 % were white, 11 % were African American, 7 % werenon-white Hispanic, and 2 % were Asian. Ages rangedfrom 18 to 87, with a mean of 51.4 and a median of 55.Average family income was between $50,000 and $59,000.Support for Voter ID LawsRespondents read the statement, ‘‘Voter ID laws requireindividuals to show a form of government-issued identifi-cation when they attempt to vote,’’ and were then asked,‘‘What is your opinion? Do you strongly favor voter IDlaws, favor voter ID laws, oppose voter ID laws, orstrongly oppose voter ID laws?’’ Responses were codedsuch that strong opposition  =  1, opposition  =  2,‘‘unsure’’  =  3, support  =  4, and strong support  =  5.Experimental DesignThe question capturing opinion on voter ID laws incorpo-rated an experimental manipulation involving randomassignment to one of the three versions. The first versionwas not accompanied by any image, a second version wasaccompanied by an image of a white voter and poll worker,and a third version was accompanied by an image of anAfrican American voter and poll worker (the Appendixincludes these images). Both images were taken frompublicly available sources (one from a news media websiteand the other from the website of a civic organization) andthus are presumably realistic in terms of the types of images to which citizens might be exposed. Among thepublicly available images we could find, these were themost comparable ones featuring a white voter and pollworker or African American voter and poll worker. Bothimages feature a voter shot at an angle from which thevoter’s face (but not race) is mostly obscured. Both imagesalso feature a voter who appears to be relatively elderly(though not dramatically so), thereby holding age roughlyconstant.A second manipulation involved random assignment toone of two question wordings for the item asking aboutsupport for or opposition to voter ID laws. One versionincluded balanced arguments for and against voter ID laws(‘‘supporters argue these laws are necessary to keep peoplewho aren’t eligible to vote from voting; opponents arguethese laws can actually prevent people who are eligible tovote from voting’’), whereas the other version did not.Subsequent analyses revealed that this manipulation wasirrelevant to the substantive findings of interest; thus, thefollowing account does not discuss it.Racial ResentmentRacial resentment was measured by a composite scale of five items capturing resentment toward African Americans.This measure is based on a scale ( a  =  .89) developed byWilson and Davis (2011) and similar to the one ( a  =  .78)used by Wilson and Brewer (2013) in their study of publicopinion about voter ID laws. Each of the items captures adimension of resentment related to perceived special con-siderations and related beliefs about African Americans:‘‘Racial discrimination is no different from other everydayproblems people have to deal with’’; ‘‘I resent any specialconsiderations that African Americans receive because it’sunfair to other Americans’’; ‘‘For African Americans tosucceed they need to stop using racism and slavery asexcuses’’; ‘‘Special considerations for African Americansplace me at an unfair disadvantage because I have donenothing to harm them’’; and, ‘‘African Americans bring uprace only when they need to make an excuse for theirfailure.’’We performed confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) onthe racial resentment items using IBM AMOS v22 andassessed model fit using common statistical conventions,including a non-significant chi-square ( v 2 ) test (which issensitive to large sample size); a comparative fit index(CFI) of .95 or greater; relative fix (RFI) and normed fit Race Soc Probl (2014) 6:365–371 367  1 3
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