Study: Lawmakers' Response Differs Based On Perceived Race Of Constituents

May 3, 2011

Lawmakers' response to constituents can differ based on the perceived race of the voter seeking the legislator's help, according to an interesting study by a Yale University political scientist.

The researcher sent 4,859 state legislators across the nation an e-mail from a fictional constituent with either a white-sounding name (Jake Mueller) or black-sounding name (DeShawn Jackson.) The emailer sought help in registering to vote.

The political scientist also "signaled" the partisan preference of the emailer, with either fictional constituent sometimes asking about registering for Republican or Democratic primaries. Sometimes they didn't indicate a party preference at all.

The result: DeShawn received significantly fewer responses, statistically speaking, than Jake. That was true even with white lawmakers who had reason to believe the fictional voter with the black-sounding name was of the same party as the legislator.

What's more, according to the researchers Daniel M. Butler, an assistant professor of political scientist and David E. Broockman, a student:

Further analysis reveals that white legislators of both parties exhibit similar levels of discrimination against the black alias. Minority legislators do the opposite, responding more frequently to the black alias.

The researchers said their study suggested that the race of elected officials has a bearing on how effectively constituents are repreented.

Also, their research indicated that white lawmakers of both parties might discriminate against minority constituents although it wasn't clear why white legislators would discriminate against a black constituent who indicated political leanings similar to the lawmaker's. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit