Daniel M. Butler and David E. Broockman — whom you might remember for digging up this incredible gem — have written a paper asking, “Do Politicians Racially Discriminate against Constituents? A Field Experiment on State Legislators” (PDF). Their idea was simple and elegant: They posed as a voter and e-mailed thousands of state legislators asking for help registering. Actually, I guess I should say they posed as two different voters. One fake voter, “DeShawn Jackson,” had a black name, and the other, “Jake Mueller,” had a white name. Guess what happened:
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.