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By Quinlan Mitchell
October 23, 2014
Caption : The University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication conducted an experiment that sought to discover the link between support for voter ID laws and race. The Center found in its analysis that under certain circumstances white Americans were more in favor of voter ID laws.     

It turns out that voter ID laws may, in fact, be about race, according to one new study.

The University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication conducted an experiment—the results of which were published this month—that sought to discover the link between support for voter ID laws and race. The Center found in its analysis that under certain circumstances, white Americans were more in favor of voter ID laws.

What were the circumstances? When they saw images of African Americans voting.

David C. Wilson was one of the research faculty that supervised the study, along with Paul Brewer. Wilson talked about the results in a release put out by the Center.

“Our findings suggest that public opinion about voter ID laws can be racialized by simply showing images of African American people,” he said.

Wilson added that, “the resulting increase in support for the laws happens independently of—even after controlling for—political ideology and negative attitudes about African Americans.”

The study featured a simple design—participants were shown one of three photos: an image of African Americans using voting machines, an image of white Americans using voting machines, or no image at all. Participants then completed the following survey question about voter ID laws:

“Voter ID laws require individuals to show a form of government issued identification when they attempt to vote. What is your opinion? Do you strongly favor voter ID laws, favor voter ID laws, oppose voter ID laws, or strongly oppose voter ID laws?”

A higher percentage of white respondents who saw the image of African Americans expressed support for voter ID laws. At 6 percent, the difference was statistically significant.

“Majorities in all three groups favored voter ID laws, but the margin was wider when white respondents saw a black person using a voting machine,” Wilson said.

In total, 1,436 Americans nationwide took part in the study when it was conducted in 2012. Not all participants were white, but Hispanic and African American participants were not affected by the images.

The study follows in the wake of another study published previously by the same research team that showed that support for voter ID laws was strongest among Americans who harbor negative attitudes towards African Americans. This study was created as a follow-up, to clarify the findings of the prior experiment.

For the future, the researchers hope to keep testing the connections between race and voter ID, but in a different way.

“One of the research opportunities we are exploring is replicating the same study but with images of Hispanic voters instead of African American voters,” Brewer said.

The results of the current study have achieved widespread coverage across media outlets. With the rising percentage of Hispanic voters in the electorate, the follow-up study is likely to arouse a similar level of interest.

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