NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Race and the Politics of Close Elections

Tom Vogl

NBER Working Paper No. 18320
Issued in August 2012
NBER Program(s):   LS   POL

Elections between black and white candidates tend to involve close margins and high turnout. Using a novel dataset of municipal vote returns during the rise of black mayors in U.S. cities, this paper establishes new facts about turnout and competition in close interracial elections. In the South, but not the North, close black victories were more likely than close black losses, involved higher turnout than close black losses, and were more likely than close black losses to be followed by subsequent black victories. These results are consistent with a model in which the historical exclusion of Southern blacks from politics made them disproportionately sensitive to mobilization efforts by political elites, leading to a black candidate advantage in close elections. The results contribute to a growing body of evidence that the outcomes of reasonably close elections are not always random, which suggests that detailed knowledge of the electoral context is a precondition to regression discontinuity analyses based on vote shares.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w18320

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