While the president doesn’t have the power to enact and enforce that order, this is Trump’s latest effort to curtail what he claims is fraudulent Latino voting. He made that claim when declaring Hillary Clinton’s 2016 popular-vote victory was based on fraud; it was behind his reasoning for convening a commission on voter identification laws; and more recently, it’s been his stated reason for objecting to vote-by-mail efforts.
One week later, in the wake of civil rights hero and congressman John Lewis’s passing, 48 senators co-sponsored the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, honoring his decades of work to expand voting rights to all.
These two events, less than a week apart, remind us that voting rights in the United States have historically intersected with race and ethnicity, in complex ways. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed, 100 years after the Civil War’s closing, to end the brutal rule of Jim Crow and ensure African Americans could vote. Spanish-speaking Latinos and other language minorities had to wait until the much-less-celebrated 1975 extension of the Voting Rights Act to get protections, including requiring multilingual ballots and expanding coverage of the act to include Texas, which enabled many more to vote.
Policies that restrict voting
Over the past 50 years, a number of states have enacted policies that tend to lower turnout rates. Some of these affect African Americans and Latinos similarly. For instance, both groups tend to live in areas assigned fewer polling places per capita than other parts of their states, and therefore face long lines to cast their ballots — so that, on average, they to wait for around 45 percent longer than White/Anglo voters. Eleven states, predominantly those that are more likely to have Republican-controlled governments, have stripped voting rights from anyone convicted of at least some felonies for life; because African Americans and Latinos are incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, these policies leave them disproportionately disenfranchised. And studies of both Florida and Georgia find that Latinos and African Americans are more than twice as likely to have their mail-in ballots rejected.
Other policies, however, disproportionately target Latinos. Many states have strict voter identification laws that require a form of government-issued identification for voting. Supporters of these laws often argue they’re needed to prevent “illegal” voting. Sometimes, this is used as a code for suppressing Latino votes without actually mentioning Latinos. At other times, advocates are more blunt. For instance, in 2018, Fox News host Tucker Carlson defended Trump’s claim that Russia wasn’t alone in trying to interfere in the U.S. elections, but that many countries do so; Carlson added, “like Mexico, which is routinely interfering in our elections by packing our electorate.”
In our book, “Ignored Racism,” we explore how White American animus toward Latinos shapes attitudes about voting rights policies. Our focus is on what we call “Latino/a Racism Ethnicism,” the belief that Latino/as are racially and culturally distinct from, and inferior to, Whites. We argue that this belief system helps explain White attitudes about a number of types of policies.
Our measure of this attitude is based on the answer to four questions. We asked respondents how much they agreed with the following statements:
- “Many other ethnic groups have successfully integrated into American culture. Latinos and Hispanics should do the same without any special favors.”
- “Anti-Latino sentiment and racism have created conditions that make it difficult for Latinos and Hispanics to succeed in America.”
- “Latinos and Hispanics would be more welcomed by the rest of us if they would try harder to learn English and adopt U.S. customs like other ethnic groups have done.”
- “Critics of Latinos and the media have overblown the number of crimes committed by Latinos and Hispanics within the United States.”
Agreement with first and second statements and disagreement with the third and fourth demonstrated higher levels of belief in these anti-Latino attitudes.
Who supports voter ID laws?
Our analyses of attitudes about voting rights grow from two survey experiments. The first was conducted through Qualtrics in April 2018 with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans over the age of 18. Before the experimental part of the survey, respondents were asked the four questions listed above. About half of the survey respondents said they either somewhat or strongly agreed with those anti-Latino statements.
In this experiment, we asked respondents to read a brief vignette about voter identification laws, randomly assigning the respondents to one of three groups. The first group read a media story with no mention of race or ethnicity and a photo of five voting stations under red, white and blue bunting. The second group read the same story, with an additional paragraph that argued that these laws disenfranchised Latinos. That vignette replaced the nondescript voting stations with a photo showing three Latinos and a sign reading “Latino Vote USA” and the phrase “Your Vote is Your Voice” in English and Spanish (“Su Voto Es Su Voz”). The third group was similar to the second but replaced the paragraph about the disenfranchisement of Latinos with a paragraph about how these laws disenfranchised African Americans and replaced the photograph with an image of four African Americans voting.
Regardless of which group the respondent was in, Whites with higher levels of racialized attitudes toward Latinos were more likely to support strict voter identification laws and be more concerned about voter fraud. Those Whites who believed Latinos to be culturally inferior who read the selections mentioning Latinos were more likely to worry about and support policies to stop voter fraud. These findings aren’t surprising, considering voter identification has been framed as being about voting by undocumented immigrants — who have primarily been discussed as Latinos who cross the southern border with Mexico.
How do people think about removing voters from the rolls?
To learn how Americans think about efforts to remove people from the voter rolls, we undertook what social scientists call a “conjoint experiment,” which asks respondents to make choices with randomly assigned attributes. We conducted a second experiment between Nov. 27 and 30 in 2018. This survey was not nationally represented, was conducted by Lucid and had 2,498 respondents.
We gave our respondents two hypothetical citizens and asked them to choose which of the two they would keep on the voter rolls. In each choice, the two people they chose from were assigned these characteristics: a race/ethnicity; gender; U.S. birth or naturalized citizenship; criminal record or lack thereof; a voting history; address that could or could not be confirmed; and a state-issued identification or its lack.
To our surprise, respondents preferred to remove White citizens to removing either African Americans or Latinos — although other characteristics influenced their choices much more strongly. But there was an exception: The 47 percent of our respondents who were high in our measure of racialized bias against Latinos preferred to remove Latinos instead of whites.
Attitudes about voting rights have always been shaped by race and ethnicity — and that includes how White Americans think about Latinos.
David A.M. Peterson (@daveamp) is the Lucken Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University, and co-author of “Ignored Racism: White Animus Toward Latinos” (Cambridge University Press, 2020).
Mark D. Ramirez is an associate professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University, and co-author of “Ignored Racism: White Animus Toward Latinos” (Cambridge University Press, 2020).