In many U.S. cities, Latinos and Asians are gaining population share in previously white or black dominated areas. But the vast majority of cities still have white mayors, even those with majority-minority populations. So when do racial minorities gain representation and do they ally to support the same candidates? Paru Shah finds that majority-white and majority-black cities have resisted representation for new immigrant populations. Andrea Benjamin finds that Blacks and Latinos do sometimes vote for the same candidates, but their alliances depend on elite endorsements and racial cues. The results shed light on racial politics in our diversifying nation.

The Niskanen Center’s Political Research Digest features up-and-coming researchers delivering fresh insights on the big trends driving American politics today. Get beyond punditry to data-driven understanding of today’s Washington with host and political scientist Matt Grossmann. Each 15-minute episode covers two new cutting-edge studies and interviews two researchers.You can subscribe to the Political Research Digest on iTunes here.


Grossmann: This week on Political Research Digest, when rainbow coalitions and diversifying cities bring minority leaders, and when they don’t. For the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann.

In many US cities, Latinos and Asians are gaining population share in previously dominated white or black dominated areas. But the vast majority of cities still have white mayors, even those with majority-minority populations. When do racial minorities gain representation, and do African-Americans ally with other minorities to elect the same candidates? A new article, “Racial Change, Racial Threat, and Minority Representation in Cities,” published in Urban Affairs Review, argues that majority white and majority black cities have resisted representation for new immigrant populations. I talked to author Paru Shah of the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee about the effects of rising minority groups.

Blacks and Latinos do sometimes vote for the same candidates, but their alliances may depend on elite endorsements, and racial issues. I also talked to Angela Benjamin soon at the University of Missouri, about her new book from Cambridge University Press, Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections, Elite Cues, and Cross-Ethnic Voting. She finds that endorsements can sometimes move African-Americans to support Latino candidates, but it’s harder for Latino endorsements to produce black candidate support. Political scientists traditionally argue that racial minorities need large population sizes to produce elected officials of the same race. Paru Shah says even with fat rising minorities, existing majorities rarely give up co-ethnic representation.

Shah: The most important findings from my paper are that racial threat, which is this idea that people feel intimidated or worried about losing power is still a strong predictor of what kinds, who actually gets elected to office, and that this idea that once in power, people are loathe to relinquish it, continues to be true, even if the people in power are not necessarily are the ones who we think of as having power in this country. People of color. I think the main finding is that those kinds of mechanisms of wanting to hold on to power remain true even in 2017, even as places are becoming much more, as I call my paper, multi-racial.

Grossmann: The research in this area focuses on the racial identity of mayors.

Shah: There’s a long history in urban politics, looking at mayors, and it is, in many ways, the stepping stone for many candidates of color and elected officials, really, where they start in terms of their office holding. For social scientists, the nice thing about mayors is that there’s lots of them. They have, there’s a lot of variation in their race, more so, at least, than in other elective office. I also think it’s nice, because it’s where politics are local. This is where people really notice who’s in power, and the [inaudible 00:03:02] dynamics in the city can really be illustrated more so, I think, than in other higher levels of office.

Grossmann: Shah studied both elected mayors nationwide, and all candidates for mayor in California, finding similar patterns.

Shah: First, we’re looking at who gets elected. Making some assumptions about who is available to individuals to vote for. Here is where I find that really it’s in majority white cities that we find racial threat more kind of rearing its head most prominently, in terms of the, a holding on to power even as a city really significantly shifts. Again, this, I think, that narrative really put out, and I think well, politics, like what happened in Ferguson is this idea that how is it possible that a city that’s majority black has no white, or I’m sorry, no black representation? That was looking at that. Then, in terms of candidate immersion, or this idea of who actually decides to run, what’s interesting, I think, here, and this also builds upon some of my other work, is that it’s not just who your co-ethnic or co-racial voters are.

If I’m an Asian-American in California thinking about running, that’s going to be one of the things that I look to. But the, but kind of the long literature now out there on what kind of holds people back from running suggests that there’s a lot of other things, like strategic considerations, and opportunities and resources that really hold people back. I wanted to look and see if there are ways in which you can then look at how strategic voters might think, or, I’m sorry, strategic candidates might think about the composition of the electorate to make some determinations. Again, I think what’s interesting here is much of the racial kind of threat arguments end up playing out again, in terms of not feeling confident that you’re going to be able to get those what we would call crossover voters. Especially if you’re the first minority to run in that city.

Grossmann: The baseline is still minority underrepresented with whites dominant.

Shah: The most likely race and gender of a mayor, or any elected official in the United States, is white and male. That’s going to always be the modal category, and I think what you see at the mayoral level follows that same pattern, and it just goes again to show that even as places might change, in terms of their demographics, who has power in those places has remained to be the white leadership in those cities that for a variety of reasons have been able to run for office, and then maintain themselves in those offices.

Grossmann: She found that whites sometimes even ally with blacks against rising Latino populations.

Shah: Immigration is one of those touchpoints where African-Americans and white voters might see themselves aligned against Latinos, in certain contexts.

Grossmann: Shah found that in cities with existing black or Latino majority, the other minority can help the existing majority elect a mayor. But she also found broad patterns consistent with black-Latino competition.

Shah: In the broader research, it really demonstrates that allies kind of come from a common enemy, right, and this idea that there’s, or some other common problem that they can rally around. For whatever, again, one of the pieces that was kind of motivated this paper for me was looking at places like Compton, California, where African-Americans and Latinos are now really fighting for power, versus coming together. I think it, again, has to do with one of the things I think I find is that once you’re in power, giving that up is really difficult, and people are not necessarily interested in doing that. Even as places become, even as it becomes pretty obvious that there are majority populations that are not being represented.

I think tentative findings about multi-racial places, as there are a few of them, is that those are the places where we might see some ability to kind of cross racial lines and vote for the other candidate. But it’s again, I think, really tenuous, still, and I think nationally, and at the state level, we see similar things, where there are moments where it seems as if people are coming together, but I don’t think that there’s any permanent alliances being built yet.

Grossmann: Black-Latino cooperation may rely on cues from elites. But Andrea Benjamin, author of Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections, told me the patterns for blacks and Latinos may not match.

Benjamin: In many cases, African-Americans are very in tune to these organizations that offer endorsements. Now, any endorsement doesn’t work. In the experiment that I run, an endorsement alone for a white candidate doesn’t move black voters, but when a Latino candidate receives an endorsement, or when white and Latino candidates receive endorsements in the context of racial issues, African-Americans will move. With Latinos, it’s a little bit less so. By that, I mean on my dependent variable for a vote choice, I couldn’t get any movement for Latinos. Partially, that’s because they already preferred candidate two, in each experimental treatment, so there just wasn’t any movement in the sense that they didn’t prefer that candidate any more, so there is a null result on that, which in some ways, I like, because I think we don’t see enough null results.

Benjamin: But then on a secondary dependent variable, I can get them to move when thinking about which candidate cares about their group, and it looks very much like the black sample in that a white candidate with an endorsement alone doesn’t move Latino voters to believe that that candidate cares more about them. But it does for a black candidate, on his own, and then, in the context of racial, or ethnic issues, then Latinos believe both white and black candidates with an endorsement care more about their group.

Grossmann: Her book includes lots of examples of big-city mayor elections with all kinds of racial voting patterns matching every expectation.

Andrea Benjamin: There are definitely examples where candidates have built these coalitions. New York 2005 comes to mind. Fernando Ferrer built a black-Latino coalition. He’s explicit in it. He does gain, he earns enough Latino votes, which we might expect as a [inaudible 00:09:24] candidate. He earns a majority of the black vote, but he doesn’t win, right? Then, the same thing, or a similar case in Chicago around a Latino candidate, Chuy Garcia runs on an exclusive black-Latino coalition. He doesn’t get enough black votes, partially probably, as I say in the book, because Barack Obama endorsed Rahm Emanuel, and that’s sort of a big endorsement.

He also didn’t win. Right? In some ways, but all that to say, the conventional wisdom is blacks and Latinos, always fighting, it’s always competitive, there’s a tense relationship there, and I would argue sure, there are some cases of that, but I don’t think that that’s the full story. I think that there are cases where blacks and Latinos have worked together. Even Villaraigosa, with his 2005 win, he needed black, white, and Latino voters to win that election, because in the previous election, without black voters, he didn’t win either.

Grossmann: Beyond election results, Benjamin relies on two types of experiments with fake candidates and real candidates to test endorsement effects.

Benjamin: It really does try to mimic the real world in the sense that I had literally read over 1,000 newspaper articles about local elections, and that’s where those designs came from. Then, in the next chapter, I build on that, and I do a nationally representative example experiment, but I also includes whites to see how whites respond when blacks and Latinos have made explicit black-Latino coalitions, where they run saying, “Hey, I’m candidate A. I’ve built a black-Latino coalition.”

One of the interesting results from that chapter is while white voters in the experiment don’t really punish any of the Latino candidates, relative to the base line, they don’t prefer him and less or any more, with the black candidate, with he on his own, they’re less likely to vote for him. Even for a black candidate, if he builds a Latino coalition, white are less likely to punish him, which I think is really interesting given sort of what we know about sort of racial attitudes, and how white voters respond to a black candidate.

Grossmann: Latino endorsements may not be as influential, because Latinos lack African-Americans’ long history of group leadership.

Benjamin: Just one distinction is I think that for African-Americans, why I think the results are so strong for them in each of the studies that I’ve done is because I think that there’s this is the political context that they exist in, and so it might not even be a formal organization as established as a committee here in Durham, but even the churches, right? The churches will often make, they won’t make formal announcements because they’re not a PAC, but they’ll say something on Sunday. The newspaper will report, “Oh, this minister endorsed, that minister endorsed. This subset of ministers endorsed.”

I think African-Americans are just much more used to looking for that cue. I think one of the things I thought about more recently with Latinos is that that’s just not the context yet. I know one of the things I’ve been really struggling with here, in this project, and when I finally have been able to interview, I want to use air quotes, but it’s a podcast, but that I want to call Latino leaders in quotes, right, because I’m not even sure what that term means. Right? I’m not sure that we have a designated Latino leader in this community. But I’ve asked each one of them do Latinos need a PAC?

Grossmann: Benjamin found the strongest effects in cases where racial issues were salient. But that put candidates in a difficult position.

Benjamin: I would never advise any candidate to make their campaign exclusively racial. I just don’t think it’s a good idea, from top-down, right? President Obama did not win his first election talking about race all the time. I just think there’s a danger in it. Again, but you know your city, so maybe in your city, if you maybe can build an independent power politics, like Hiro talks about where you don’t need the white vote, maybe you can do it. But otherwise, I think you sort of should sort of not do that.

But I think that there are several ways that race and ethnicity enter the campaign. One of the most positive ways is just excitement, right? Even though we live in a time where we have seen an increase in minority candidates, there are still several major cities that, Los Angeles, even this, now they’re in their second term of, second, the first term of a Latino mayor. There had been 100 years since they’d had a Latino mayor. It’s exciting. Or, Chicago has never had a Latino mayor. New York has never had a Latino mayor. We need candidates to emerge. It’s exciting, so we talk about it, right? I think that that’s one way that race can become salient.

I think the other way is through the media, additionally, which is talking about who’s supporting a particular candidate. The news might say, “Oh, Villaraigosa is doing well among Latinos and blacks,” or, “Garcia is doing well among Latinos or blacks.” “Bradley is doing well with Latinos and blacks,” right? I think that there’s a way in which that happens.

Grossmann: She also found that black-Latino cooperation may be strong in the political arena without changing each group’s attitudes about the other one.

Benjamin: I don’t think it’s as contentious as everyone makes it sound. At least not in the political arena. Now, if we’re talking about competition over jobs, or racial attitudes, yeah, even in my book, in chapter four, it is true that the endorsements don’t help blacks or Latinos think more positively about the out group, overall, right? Racial attitudes are pretty stable. The endorsements don’t matter outside of the political arena.

Grossmann: Nationally, it’s difficult to see the rise of pan-minority rainbow coalitions that don’t turn off whites, especially when political parties enter.

Benjamin: It turns out that Democrats, of course, are supportive of the black-Latino coalition candidates when the candidate is Latino, but Republicans are not. They will not vote for that Latino candidate.

Grossmann: But Paru Shah says the national trends are stimulating a lot of new minority candidates at the local level.

Shah: There are things that I’ve tried to emphasize, now, as I, when I teach this in politics is that as much as things have really changed at the national level, a lot of those impacts of those changes are going to be really solved at the local level. This idea that in terms of representation, in terms of who should be running, and who wants to run, I think there’s been this, again like I said, this interesting shift in terms of more women, and more candidates of color running as a result of what’s happening at the national level, and they are running at the local level.

Grossmann: Benjamin says the parties need to think about how to build support from minority leaders.

Benjamin: I hope what this context shows is that no party should really take the Latino vote and the Asian-American vote for granted, and I think that that’s what I hope my work shows, is that these coalitions are not just because oh, blacks love other blacks, other Latinos, just any Latino candidate, right? Even the Latino candidate needs an endorsement from blacks, right? Even for Latinos to believe that a black candidate cares about them, that candidate needs an endorsement.

Grossmann: Research on rainbow electoral coalitions will become more important as the nation diversifies. Shah says the next step is to look closely at racial changing cities.

Shah: The thing that I would like to do next is that I focus on these cities that are becoming multi-racial, and places that are close to becoming multi-racial, and looking at them over time. I think that’s really where we’re going to be able to see how these dynamics play out, in terms of representation over the years, because again, I do think my findings show that the moments in which places are multi-racial may be fleeting.

Grossmann: Benjamin wants to look at how elite level interactions produce endorsements that move voters.

Benjamin: The process is important, right? I think that that’s another thing that I wish I had done better, in my book, is how to understand the process of where endorsements come from. They literally don’t actually just magically appear, right? People give it a lot of thought, and these organizations have a very strict process about how they give them. When you ask them, they think that they’re really helping their voters make the best decision, and I think that that’s also really important.

Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. Political Research Digest is available bi-weekly from the Niskanen Center. I’m your host, Matt grossmann. Thanks to Paru Shah and Andrea Benjamin for joining me. Read more at Niskanen Center dot org, and please encourage others to subscribe. Join us next time to find out how US Senate majorities play hardball, avoiding the filibuster, and using budget reconciliation.