This Study Said the South Is More Racist Than the North
Elmendorf and Spencer used data from the 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey, which asked non-blacks to rank their own racial group and blacks regarding intelligence, trustworthiness, and work ethic. Respondents ranked their racial group above blacks by an average of 15 points in each of these categories, perhaps proving the Avenue Q claim that “everyone’s a little bit racist.” Elmendorf and Spencer, however, only counted a person as “prejudiced” if he thought his racial group was more superior to blacks than the average person—and only if he thought so in two or more of the three categories. That is, a respondent could think his race was a lot better than blacks and still not count as racist under their methodology.
The results were striking: the researchers’ mathematical model suggests that of the seven states in the country with the highest percentage of people who are biased against black people, six are Southern states—Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina—required to seek federal approval for election law changes under the VRA. Arizona and Alaska, the other two states required to get the feds’ permission before changing their election laws, ranked much lower in anti-black bias. But as Elmendorf and Spencer note, these states are presumably required to seek that permission because of other bias—anti-Latino in Arizona and anti-Native American in Alaska—which their study did not measure. (Besides the eight states mentioned above, the VRA requires some counties and municipalities in seven other states to seek federal permission to change election rules.)
The researchers crunched the data several different ways to make sure they were getting valid results. But “whichever approach you pick, the Deep South states are close to the top,” Elmendorf says.
Elmendorf and Spencer’s study may have come too late: The Supreme Court is widely expected to strike down the portion of the VRA that governs which states are and are not required to seek the feds’ permission to change their election rules. If that happens, Congress will have to come up with new rules to determine which states this section of the VRA should cover. If lawmakers decide to embrace Roberts’ implication that states with more racist attitudes should receive special scrutiny, Elmendorf and Spencer’s study suggests they could end up with a list of VRA-covered states that looks a lot like today’s.