The United States has become significantly more racially diverse over the past decade. Politicians therefore increasingly market themselves to diverse racial constituencies. Yet we know comparatively little about whether and when these appeals work. The authors hypothesized that racially cueing co-ethnic voters (e.g., highlighting a candidate and voters’ shared race) will have a positive effect—with a particularly strong effect for Black voters. They also expected that cueing co-minority voters (e.g., highlighting candidate and voters’ shared status as minorities) would have a positive effect for Black voters, but not necessarily for Latino voters. To test these pre-registered hypotheses, the authors conducted an online survey experiment that leverages U.S. Congressman Charlie Rangel’s mixed racial heritage as both Black and Latino.
The authors recruited an online national sample (N=1,035) of Black and Latino respondents in May 2013. Respondents were then randomly assigned to read one of three version of a news article about charges of ethics violations against U.S. Congressman Charlie Rangel. In the control condition, respondents were given no information about Rangel’s racial background. In the first treatment, the article referred truthfully to Rangel as “The son of a Latino father.” In the second treatment, the article referred truthfully to Rangel as “The son of a Black mother.” Respondents were then asked three questions. First, they were asked to rate their “warmth” towards Rangel on a 100-point scale. Second, respondents were asked about whether they believed Rangel was guilty of ethics violations. Third, as a behavioral test, respondents were asked if they wanted to contribute a share of an honorarium ($1) to support an education center named in Rangel’s honor.
Compared to those in the control condition, the authors find that cueing Black respondents assigned to Rangel’s shared Black identity (co-ethnic treatment) had a positive effect on the average reported “warmth” of Black respondents towards Rangel. They also find a negative effect on the share of Black respondents who believe he is guilty of ethics violations and a positive effect on the share of money Black respondents were willing to donate to a center named for Rangel. Black respondents cued to Rangel’s Latino heritage (co-minority treatment) also report feeling more warmly towards Rangel and donated more money than those in the control condition. For both the co-ethnic and co-minority cues, the authors detect no such similar results among Latino respondents. However, looking specifically at Latino respondents who perceive at least some discrimination against their group (66%), the authors find results that mirror those that were obtained among Black respondents in the main sample. This finding suggests that the effect of co-ethnic and co-minority is circumscribed by voters’ perceptions of the scale of prejudice against their own community.
The authors find evidence that the effect of cueing voters to a candidate’s co-minority status is critically conditioned by voters’ perceptions of their own group’s persecution. One implication of this finding is that, at least in this context, elite appeals alone are insufficient to generate cross-ethnic solidarity. Instead, those interested in motivating higher rates of cross-ethnic solidarity across minority communities should meet constituent populations on their own terms and craft appeals that underscore an understanding of the unique persecution experienced by each group.