Trends in Voting

African Americans

For a large part of the history of the US, black voters were blocked from voting either directly or indirectly.

Learning Objectives

Explain the institutional barriers that prevented African Americans from participating in American politics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • For a large part of the history of the US, Black voters were blocked from voting, either directly or through political practices that targeted Black voters indirectly.
  • At the end of the Civil War, amendments to the US Constitution banned slavery in the US as well as affirmed the citizenship of Black residents. Finally, the fifteenth amendment, ratified in 1870, banned any state from denying the right to vote to any adult male citizen based on his race.
  • While the fifteenth amendment provided legal protection for voting rights based on race, there were other means that could be used to block Black citizens from voting. During the Jim Crow era, politicians created new institutions to suppress the vote of Black residents.
  • In the 1950s and 1960s, the civil rights movement came into its own as a widespread social movement. Groups fought for improved opportunities for African American people, and tried to defend existing rights that were being denied, such as voting rights.
  • After the Civil Rights movement average voter turnout for African Americans remained below national averages. A disproportionate amount of African Americans remain in low-income communities where rates of voting are lower.

Key Terms

  • Jim Crow: Southern United States racist and segregationist policies in the late 1800’s and early to mid 1900’s, taken collectively.
  • disenfranchise: to deprive someone of a franchise, generally their right to vote
  • Fifteenth Amendment: an addition to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1870, which prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”

African Americans

For a large part of US history Black voters were blocked from voting, either directly or through political practices that targeted Black voters indirectly.

Today, the average participation of African American voters is still somewhat lower than white voters, but there is great variety within these voting patterns.

There are different explanations for voting patterns. Institutional approaches look at the ways in which legal documents and organizations impact the ability to vote. Others examine the question of rationality in voting: does voting serve the self-interest of any given individual, and what are the interests or issues that might change someones voting patterns? A behavioral approach focuses on the actions of individuals and groups, taking voting as one part of a larger bundle of political activities. In examining African American voting patterns it is helpful to consider all of these factors.

Civil War and Institutional Barriers

During the period before the Civil War, enslaved Black people, and many free Blacks and free people of color were barred from voting. At the end of the war, the fifteenth amendment, ratified in 1870, banned any state from denying the right to vote to any adult male citizen based on his race.

During the early Reconstruction period, Black residents voted in large numbers. In many states the enslaved population had been larger than the free population. Coupled with a strong set of shared interests, there was a great deal of incentive for Black citizens to vote.

image

The First Vote: This contemporary print depicts the first Black voters in the US exercising their new rights.

Jim Crow Era and Disenfranchisement

While the fifteenth amendment provided legal protection for voting rights based on race, during the Jim Crow era, politicians created new institutions to suppress the vote of Black residents.

Early on, violence and intimidation was used to keep Black voters away from the polls. States then began to pass official voter suppression legislation. These included poll taxes requiring payment before voting, and literacy and understanding tests, strict residency requirements and new voter registration rules.

While these rules did not specifically restrict Black citizens from voting, Black people who were freed slaves and their descendants were disproportionately poor, less educated or illiterate, and so more likely to have their voting rights limited by these provisions. Although it is important to note that poor white residents were also disenfranchised by many of these provisions. In some cases, states added character or grandfather clauses to permit poor or illiterate white residents to continue voting.

Civil Rights

During the early parts of the 1900s, the NAACP brought forward several successful cases to challenge state voter suppression laws. In the 1950s and 1960s, the civil rights movement became a widespread social movement. Groups fought for improved opportunities for African American people, and tried to defend existing rights that were being denied. Civil rights leaders organized communities through churches and other community groups, and attracted the support of many white activists from northern states.

The African-American Civil Rights Movement encompasses social movements in the United States whose goal was to end racial segregation and discrimination against black Americans and enforce constitutional voting rights to them. This article covers the phase of the movement between 1955 and 1968, particularly in the South.

The movement was characterized by major campaigns of civil resistance. Between 1955 and 1968, acts of nonviolent protest and civil disobedience produced crisis situations between activists and government authorities. Federal, state, and local governments, businesses, and communities often had to respond immediately to these situations that highlighted the inequities faced by African Americans.

In 1962, the twenty-fourth amendment to the Constitution prohibited congress or states from restricting voting through poll taxes. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed. In 1965, the Voting Rights Act established federal oversight of election regulations, and banned voter qualifications or prerequisites that limited the right to vote on account of race or color. This act removed a large institutional barrier to voting and helped to further protect voting rights.

2008 and Beyond

The 2008 presidential election was historic, with Barack Obama as the Democratic candidate, and the first non-white presidential candidate for a major party. Obama had a Kenyan-born Black father, a white mother from the Midwest, and strong connections in the African American community in Chicago. Aside from the fact that Obama won an overwhelming percent of the African American vote, there was also high levels of African American voter turnout during this election. This was in part because of self-interest and a desire for representation, but was also the result of strong community organizing. Once again, grassroots groups and social movement leaders worked to register voters and get them to the polls.

Latinos

On average, Latino citizens continue to vote at significantly lower rates than non-Latino white voters.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the voting trends among Latino voters in U.S. politics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While Latino voters should not be thought of as a homogenous group, there are still some general trends for the group. On average, Latino citizens continue to vote at significantly lower rates that non-Latino white voters.
  • There are low rates of naturalization in the US, along with weak political institutions that might facilitate the incorporation of Latino citizens as voters.
  • However, in recent years, a larger number of organizations that serve immigrant and Latino communities have become involved in political participation.
  • The Language Minority Provision of the Voting Rights Act, first introduced in 1975, aims to lower the cost of participation for Latino voters by requiring election material be provided in Spanish where appropriate.

Key Terms

  • naturalization: Naturalization is the acquisition of citizenship and nationality by somebody who was not a citizen of that country at the time of birth.

Latinos

Latino communities make up one of the fastest growing groups in the US. Latino voters are a diverse group which include long-established Tejano and Californio, Puerto Rican and Chicano voters, as well as the Cuban-American community which makes up a large bloc of voters in Miami. However, recently naturalized citizens from South and Central America, and their children, make up the largest group of Latino voters in the US.

Latino Voting Trends

image

Immigrant Rights and Civil Rights: Organizations serving immigrant communities are starting to encourage more political participation, including voting.

While Latino voters should not be thought of as a homogenous group, there are still some general trends for the group. On average Latino citizens continue to vote at significantly lower rates that non-Latino white voters.

There are many potential approaches that can be taken to explain variations in voting rates. Institutional approaches look at the ways in which legal documents and organizations shape the ability to vote. Others examine the question of the rationality of voting: does voting serve the self-interest of any given individual, and what are the interests or issues that might change someone’s voting patterns? A behavioral approach focuses more on the actions of individuals and groups, taking voting as one part of a larger bundle of political activities.

The US has comparatively low rates of naturalization for immigrant residents. As such, people may live for many years in the US without being able to vote. Additionally, the weaker electoral institutions in the US, including more decentralized election processes and a weaker party system, mean that there are few institutions working to actively incorporate newly naturalized citizens or second generation citizens into the voting process.

Additionally, many Latino political activists, who are more visible in their political participation, have often been quite different from the average Latino. For example, these activists are generally less in need of government supports, and less likely to advocate for such programs. They are, therefore, not good candidates for the type of community organizing that could rally new voters around their own interests.

However, in recent years, a larger number of organizations that serve immigrant and Latino communities have become involved in political participation. These groups are advocating for resources, supports and rights. They are also encouraging the political participation of Latino residents through voter registration drives, and partnerships with other organizations, such as unions, that have traditionally been involved in voter mobilization.

Language Minority Voting Rights

One important institutional change aimed at lowering the cost for Latino voter participation is the Language Minority Provision of the Voting Rights Act, first introduced in 1975, and then amended in 1992 and 2006. This provision is aimed at upholding the principals of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the US constitution, by attempting to eliminate language-based barriers to voting.

This provision has been shown to have a significant impact on improving rates of voting by Latino citizens.

Asian Americans

The diversity and polarization of the Asian American community makes it difficult to generalize their voting patterns.

Learning Objectives

Explain the levels of political participation by Asian Americans in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • This diversity and polarization makes it difficult to generalize the voting patterns for the Asian American community. In some areas voting rates are significantly higher than the US average, or the rate for non-Latino white voters. In others it is significantly lower.
  • Differences are related to indicators such as income and education. Like most other groups in the US, Asian Americans with more education and higher income tend to vote more.
  • Other indicators for voting participation among Asian Americans are the political climate for both their home country and their local community.
  • The Language Minority Provision of the Voting Rights Act is an important institutional change aimed at increasing the rates of voting in Asian American communities. Introduced in 1975 it requires election material be provided in several languages from Asia, where appropriate.

Key Terms

  • disenfranchisement: Explicit or implicit revocation of, or failure to grant the right to vote, to a person or group of people.

Asian Americans

It might come as a surprise to find that California was one of the last states to ratify the fifteenth amendment to the US constitution, which prohibited any state from limiting a male citizen’s right to vote based on race. However, in the late 1800s many politicians in California were adamant that migrants from China and their descendants should be prohibited from voting. Like African American communities in southern states, Asian American communities have faced a long history of voter discrimination and disenfranchisement in the US.

image

Political Participation: Asian American communities have a long history of both disenfranchisement and political participation in the US.

Today the Asian American community in the US is quite diverse, with longstanding Chinese and Japanese communities particularly on the west coast, along with large Pacific Islander populations both on the west coast and in Hawaii. The Asian American community is also one of the fastest growing groups in the country in large part because of new immigration. The three largest groups are made of people who have emigrated from China, India and the Philippines. These newly naturalized citizens and their children make up the largest group of Asian American voters.

In addition to being a diverse group, the Asian American community is also highly polarized in terms of its socioeconomic profile. Some Asian Americans have very high income, while others have very low income. This diversity and polarization makes it difficult to generalize the voting patterns for the Asian American community. In some areas voting rates are significantly higher than the US average, or the rate for non-Latino white voters. In others it is significantly lower.

Differences are related to indicators such as income and education. Like most other groups in the US, Asian Americans with more education and higher income tend to vote more. Other indicators for voting participation among Asian Americans are the political climate for both their home country and their local community.

Language Minority Voting Rights

One important institutional change aimed at increasing the rates of voting in Asian American communities is the Language Minority Provision of the Voting Rights Act. It was first introduced in 1975, and later amended in 1992 and 2006. This provision is aimed at upholding the principles of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the US constitution by attempting to eliminate language-based barriers to voting. This provision holds that election documents, such as voting notices and ballots, must be provided in the minority language alongside English, where appropriate.

Women vs. Men

In 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote and, today, women vote at similar rates to men.

Learning Objectives

Explain the historical causes for women’s greater participation in American politics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • For a large part of the history of the US, women were denied their right to vote. Women were not able to vote in elections until the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Ratified in 1920, this amendment prohibited any citizen from being denied the right to vote based on their sex.
  • In spite of this long-term institutional barrier to voting, women today vote at similar rates to men. Women also do not generally vote as a bloc, and instead tend to be as diverse in their voting patterns as men.
  • The high rates of women’s involvement in elections, in spite of being excluded from voting for so long, can be partially explained by women’s high rates of involvement in other forms of political participation.
  • Women share many of the same interests as men in comparable positions, and so, similarly to men, women with more education and higher income will tend to vote at higher rates than other women.

Key Terms

  • bloc: a group of voters or politicians who share common goals
  • suffrage: The right or chance to vote, express an opinion, or participate in a decision.

Women Versus Men

There are a variety of theories that help to explain who votes. Institutional approaches look at the ways in which legal documents and organizations impact and shape the ability to vote. Other approaches examine the question of the rationality of voting: does voting serve the self-interest of any given individual, and what are the interests or issues that might change someone’s voting patterns? A behavioral approach focuses more on the actions of individuals and groups, taking voting as one part of a larger bundle of political activities. It is useful to combine these ideas when thinking about women’s and men’s voting patterns.

For a large part of the history of the United States, women were denied their right to vote. Women were not allowed to vote in all elections until the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Ratified in 1920, this amendment prohibited any citizen from being denied the right to vote based on their sex.

In spite of this long-term institutional barrier to voting, women today vote at similar rates to men. Women also do not generally vote as a bloc, and instead tend to be as diverse in their voting patterns as men. Characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age and socioeconomic status tend to predict voting patterns better than gender. Even when considering so-called “women’s issues”, such as reproductive choices and rights or equal pay legislation, women do not vote as a bloc. Instead, while they may identify these issues as more important than men, women tend to be split over the correct solutions to a problem. However, there are exceptions, such as around any questions of war and/or the use of violence.

The high rates of women’s involvement in voting (in spite of being excluded from voting for so long) can be partially explained by women’s high involvement in other forms of political participation. This includes the suffrage movement that saw women organizing and campaigning to win women the right to vote. Additionally, women share many of the same interests as men in comparable positions, and so, similarly to men, women with more education and higher income will vote at higher rates than women in different positions.

image

Suffragettes: Women across the US organized for decades to gain the right to vote for women.

While women vote at a similar rate to men, they are underrepresented in other forms of political participation, such as joining organizations like political parties and running for public office.

Religious Identity and Politics

Within the United States, religious identity plays a significant role in political participation and voting.

Learning Objectives

Identify the role that religion plays in political participation and voting in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Since the election of a Catholic President in 1960, John F. Kennedy, Catholics have split about 50-50 between the two major parties in national elections.
  • For most of the 20th century, the vast majority of Jews in the United States have been aligned with the Democratic Party, though towards the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, Republicans have launched initiatives to woo American Jews.
  • One-fifth of the U.S. public–and a third of adults under 30–are religiously unaffiliated today, according to national polls.

Key Terms

  • Evangelical: Pertaining to a movement in Protestant Christianity that stresses personal conversion and the authority of the Bible (evangelicalism).

Within the United States, religious identity plays a significant role in political participation and voting.

image

Religious identity: Religious identity plays a significant role in political participation

In 1776, Catholics comprised less than 1% of the population of the new nation, but their presence grew rapidly after 1840 with immigration from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, and elsewhere in Catholic Europe from 1840 to 1914, and also from Latin America in the 20th century. Catholics now comprise 25% to 27% of the national vote, with over 68 million members today. From the mid-19th century until 1964 Catholics were solidly Democratic, with about 80%-90% of them voting democrat. But since the election of a Catholic president in 1960, John F. Kennedy, Catholics have split about 50-50 between the two major parties in national elections.

The Jewish community constitutes about 1.4 – 2.1% of the U.S. population. While earlier Jewish immigrants from Germany tended to be politically conservative, the wave of Eastern European Jews who arrived in the U.S. starting in the 1880s were generally more liberal and soon became the political majority. For most of the 20th century since 1936, the vast majority of Jews in the United States have been aligned with the Democratic Party. Towards the end of the 20th century and into the 21st century, Republicans have launched initiatives to woo American Jews away from the Democratic Party.

Today one-fifth of the U.S. public–and a third of adults under 30–are religiously unaffiliated according to national polls. Exit polls suggest that white Americans without religion vote Democratic at roughly the same rates as they vote Republican. According to exit polls in the 2008 Presidential Election, 71% of non-religious whites voted for Democratic candidate Barack Obama, while 74% of white Evangelical Christians voted for Republican candidate John McCain. This can be compared with the 43–55% share of white votes overall.

A comprehensive study by Harvard University professor Robert Putnam found that religious Americans are three to four times more likely than their nonreligious counterparts to “work on community projects, belong to voluntary associations, attend public meetings, vote in local elections, attend protest demonstrations and political rallies, and donate time and money to causes–including secular ones. ”

Age and Participation

Political participation differs notably by age; in general, older citizens are more likely to turn out in elections than younger ones.

Learning Objectives

Explain the reasons for people’s level of participation in politics

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • People between the ages of thirty-five and sixty-five are the most politically active.
  • People under the age of thirty are among the least involved in mainstream forms of participation, as younger people often lack the money and time to participate.
  • While younger people turn out in elections less often than older people, youth voting has been on the rise in presidential elections since 2004.

Key Terms

  • turnout: attendance; crowd
  • social media: Interactive forms of media that allow users to interact with and publish to each other, generally by means of the Internet.

Political participation differs notably by age. People between the ages of thirty-five and sixty-five are the most politically active. People at this stage of life are more likely than younger people to have established homes, hold steady jobs, and be settled into communities. Those with stable community roots often have strong incentives and greater resources for becoming involved in politics.

People under the age of thirty are among the least involved in mainstream forms of participation, as younger people often lack the money and time to participate. Voter turnout among eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds dropped from 50 percent in 1972, the first presidential election year after the voting age was lowered to eighteen, to 36 percent in 2000. Turnout among senior citizens, people sixty-five and older, increased to nearly 70 percent in that same time period.

While younger people turn out in elections less often than older people, youth voting has been on the rise in presidential elections since 2004. Young voter turnout rose to 47 percent in 2004 and 51 percent in 2008, partly as a result of voter registration and mobilization efforts by groups like Rock the Vote. The youth vote contributed to the success of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, as young volunteers provided countless hours of campaign support. The growth of Internet technologies, particularly social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, has also made it easier for candidates to reach younger voters who may not read traditional newspapers or watch television news and increase their turnout.

image

President Barack Obama: Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns were successful partly as a result of youth participation.