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Explaining the Contemporary Alignment of Race and Party: Evidence from California's 1946 Ballot Initiative on Fair Employment

  • Anthony S. Chen (a1), Robert W. Mickey (a1) and Robert P. Van Houweling (a2)

Why do most African Americans and other racial liberals vote Democratic, whereas most racial conservatives—largely whites—vote Republican? To what extent is this alignment of race and party attributable to the strategic choice of GOP elites to take the party in a racially conservative direction during the mid-1960s? This paper exploits a little-known ballot initiative in postwar California to shed light on the question. Proposition 11, as it was known, would have outlawed discrimination in employment if it had passed. Instead, it failed by more than a two-to-one margin. Drawing on archival and statistical evidence, including the ecological analysis of precinct-level election returns, we find that Republican voters were much more likely than Democratic voters to oppose Proposition 11, despite Republican Governor Earl Warren's well-known support for fair employment practices (FEP) legislation. We conclude that many Republican voters tended strongly toward racial conservatism well before Republican elites decided to pursue racially conservative policies in the mid-1960s. We suggest that the emergence of the contemporary alignment of race and party may have been less contingent on elite strategy and more structurally determined than the conventional wisdom allows.

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Studies in American Political Development
  • ISSN: 0898-588X
  • EISSN: 1469-8692
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-american-political-development
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