How the Great Recession Affected Political Participation by Race

June 12, 2018

Although the Great Recession affected most Americans, it had a disproportionate impact on racial minorities. For instance, while white median household wealth fell 28 percent between 2005 and 2009, black median household wealth fell 53 percent and Hispanic median household wealth fell 66 percent. Between 2007 and 2009, black and Latino home loan borrowers were also 76 and 71 percent more likely to experience foreclosure than whites.

A new report in Social Science Quarterly by RSF grantees Kimberly Huyser and Jillian Medeiros Perez (University of New Mexico) and coauthors investigates the ways that increased economic hardship during the Great Recession affected political participation among blacks, whites, and Latinos. Using the Collaborative Multi-Racial Political Study (CMPS)—a survey of over 2,300 black, white, and Latino respondents who voted in the 2012 general election—they find that the Great Recession affected political behavior differently across racial and ethnic groups. White respondents’ political participation (including both electoral and community activities) was largely unaffected by economic stress associated with the Great Recession. The authors point out that whites as a group entered the recession with more resources than black or Latino counterparts, and with already-high levels of political participation and political socialization, all of which led to few changes in their political activity.

Political participation among black respondents, on the other hand, appeared to increase as a result of the Great Recession. As the authors note, prior research has demonstrated that black communities in the U.S. possess certain protective resources, such as group consciousness and a sense of linked fate, plus a history of “organizing to overcome threats against the community as a whole.” As a result, financial hardship during the recession prompted many black communities and individuals to mobilize politically rather than disengage. “Black political engagement remains high even after controlling for Great Recession indicators, socioeconomic status, and political enthusiasm,” the authors write. “This suggests that even during tough times blacks remain politically active.”

Finally, the authors show that political participation decreased among Latinos, a group that was hit hard by the recession but lacked the resource of linked fate. Given that political participation among Latinos was lower than it was among blacks and whites even prior to the recession, these findings indicate that rising economic inequality may exacerbate disparities in political representation by race, with troubling consequences. “We are seeing that financial stress can lead to increased inequity in political participation,” the authors writes. “If this inequity persists it may further threaten out ideal of an egalitarian democracy.”

Read the full report in Social Science Quarterly.

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