Fear causes Whites high in implicit racism to be more supportive of voter ID laws

Fear causes Whites high in implicit racism to be more supportive of voter ID laws, according to a recent study published online this September in Political Psychology.

Soon after Emancipation, Whites feared newly freed Blacks’ political influence. As a result, Southern Whites enacted restrictive voting laws (e.g. poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses). Today, evidence shows that voter identification (ID) laws tend to suppress voter turnout among poor and minority voters, including black voters. The law requires that some form of official identification is presented for a person to register to vote, receive a ballot for an election, or to vote.

Because of the racial history attached to restrictive voting laws, research shows that explicit racism (overt and intentional racism) is a strong predictor of support for voter ID laws. However, it has been suggested that other forms of racism, such as implicit racial bias, also have an impact. In these cases, many people hold negative evaluations of Blacks that are outside of their conscious awareness.

Research on implicit racism has grown as a result of concerns about respondents hiding their real views in self-report measures of racism. For example, with explicit measures of racism, respondents would avoid appearing racist and provide the most politically correct answer.

The study, by Antoine Banks and Heather Hicks of the University of Maryland, aimed to develop understanding of the emotional underpinning of implicit racial attitudes, looking at when Whites’ unconscious racial bias will shape their political decision-making process. They proposed a theory of how fear is strongly linked to implicit racism among many White Americans.

To test the theory they looked at the opinion of Whites toward voter ID laws. 723 white participants completed measures of implicit racism, explicit racism, partisanship, and a series of demographic questions. They were then involved in an experimental manipulation which induced an emotion (fear, anger, or relaxation as a control), before having their opinions toward voter ID laws measured.

The results revealed that fear significantly increased the support for voter ID laws in Whites high in implicit racism by 16%. The study also found that fear does not cause Whites high in explicit racism to be more supportive of voter ID laws.

They concluded, “Our theory is that fear should cause Whites’ unconscious racial bias to play an important role in their political decision making on matters of race. As a result, we do not think our findings are limited to voter ID laws but can manifest in other racial domains as well.”