White Voters, Black Schools: Structuring Racial Choices with a Checklist Ballot

Publication Date:
Jan 2002
Project Programs:
Cultural Contact

In 1991, Jackson, Mississippi voters passed a school bond issue for the first time since 1964. It was momentous as Jackson's population is about half white, while its schools are over-whelmingly black. One key to victory was what William Riker calls a "heresthetical device," a creative ballot used in the election. Voters were offered a checklist of specific projects, rather than one general, omnibus measure. It is unclear whether this ballot really affected how Jacksonians voted. In this piece, however, I replicate the idea in some public opinion experimentation and show that the "checklist ballot" has a profound effect, especially on white voters. This effect is related to the restructuring of the ballot so that voters have both more choices and some sense of control over the allocation of resources. This study shows how an electoral device can help overcome racial hostility generated by competition over resources, even in the Deep South.


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