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December 30, 2013 11:00 AM The GOP’s Insane Race Strategy

By Ryan Cooper

Over at TMS today, Harold Pollack highlights a stark paper from Perspectives on Politics. The Republican shameful record on minority voting during the 2012 election was a common story on the left. But after closer study, the results are in, and they aren’t pretty:

Our results indicate that proposal and passage are highly partisan, strategic, and racialized affairs. These findings are consistent with a scenario in which the targeted demobilization of minority voters and African Americans is a central driver of recent legislative developments.

Harold unpacks the study:

Bentele and O’Brien’s statistical analysis of 2006-2011 data makes plain what was already pretty obvious. Republican governors and legislatures have sought to hinder minority turnout for partisan purposes. States were especially likely to pass restrictive voting laws if Republicans were politically dominant, but where the state observed rising minority turnout or where the state was becoming more competitive in the national presidential race. Variables that capture the strategic value to Republicans of minority voter suppression are more powerful predictors of restrictive voting legislation than is actual incidence of voter fraud.

And sure, as Harold says, this is utterly disgraceful. But perhaps the most baffling aspect about this kind of behavior is that it doesn’t even work anymore. The GOP lost in 2012. Trying to systematically disenfranchise people along racial lines is a monstrous injustice that puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the worst villains in American history. But if it doesn’t even work—and in fact inspires a larger overreaction, as seems to be the case, what is the point?

I think, as Josh Marshall suggested awhile ago putting this phenomenon in historical context, that these are longstanding political habits the downsides of which have only recently come into focus, as the country becomes steadily less white:

Does this mean the GOP is ‘racist’? No. At least not in its entirety. But it benefited mightily from it. What it means is that our politics is significantly framed around the politics of race and, on balance, it’s been a winning issue for the GOP for the 40 or 50 odd years since white Southerners moved into the Republican party and created a powerful electoral anchor for the party. They raised their sails to the winds of racial animosity and it worked in spades. For decades, you got more white votes pushing this brand of politics than you lost in minority votes. It was a good political bargain. But as the racial composition of the electorate changed, we reached a tipping, one that became visible in sharp relief in 2012.

It’s hard to know from the outside just what combination of wishful thinking, epistemic closure, belief in fake voter fraud, etc., motivates this kind of behavior. But it has to be true that the actual party operatives designing and pushing through these measures which are so obviously aimed at minority citizens know exactly what they’re doing. Here’s hoping that in the future, they’re cynical enough to know that strategy has run its course.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper

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