Sociology

Not All Equal to Politicians

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Science  22 Jul 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6041, pp. 386-387
DOI: 10.1126/science.333.6041.386-c

In considering how much progress the United States has made toward racial equality, one aspect that has been hard to study has been the political system itself. Do legislators give preferential treatment to certain constituents? To answer this question, Butler and Broockman conducted a field experiment. They sent 4859 U.S. state legislators an e-mail asking about how to register to vote. The e-mail letter was signed by one of two aliases: Jake Mueller or DeShawn Jackson. Previous studies had indicated that these aliases were strongly associated with individuals identifying themselves as white or black, respectively. Alternate forms of the letter indicated no party affiliation or Democrat or Republican, resulting in six experimental situations. The DeShawn alias received significantly fewer responses than the Jake alias when a Republican affiliation or no party affiliation was given. Legislators (or at least their offices) from both political parties were more responsive when they thought the letter writer was from their own party. Minority legislators replied more frequently to the DeShawn alias than to the Jake alias. The authors conclude that racial discrimination is still present in U.S. politics.

Am. J. Polit. Sci. 55, 463 (2011).

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