Race and turnout in U.S. elections exposing hidden effects

Benjamin J. Deufel, Orit Kedar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


We demonstrate that the use of self-reported turnout data often results in misleading inferences about racial differences in turnout. We theorize about the mechanism driving report of turnout and, utilizing ANES turnout data in presidential elections from 1976 to 1988 (all years for which comparable validated data are available), we empirically model report of turnout as well as the relationship between reported and actual turnout. We apply the model to the two subsequent presidential elections in which validated data are not available, 1992 and 1996. Our findings suggest that African Americans turned out almost 20 percentage points less than did Whites in the 1992 and 1996 U.S. presidential elections - almost double the gap that the self-reported data indicates. In contrast with previous research, we show that racial differences in factors predicting turnout make African Americans less likely to vote compared to Whites and thus increase their probability of overreporting. At the same time, when controlling for this effect, other things equal, African Americans overreport electoral participation more than Whites.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)286-318
Number of pages33
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
BENJAMIN J. DEUFEL directs quantitative analysis for the Financial Services Practice at the Corporate Executive Board, Arlington, VA, USA. ORIT KEDAR is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel. Benjamin Deufel benefited from financial support by the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship Program of the U.S. Department of Education and the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy at Harvard University, sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Orit Kedar benefited from the V.O.K. Fellowship and Dellon Fellowship, Harvard University. The authors would like to thank the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University for a seed grant. For helpful comments and suggestions, they thank Chris Achen, Barry Burden, Don Green, Jonathan Katz, Gary King, Matthew Lebo, Skip Lupia, Jonathan Nagler, Ken Scheve, Nick Valentino, Lynn Vavreck, and Jonathan Wand. They also thank Greg Distelhorst and Mike Sances for superb research assistance. Accompanying materials can be found on the authors’ Web site at http://web.mit.edu/ okedar/www/. *Address correspondence to Orit Kedar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Political Science, 77 Massachusetts Ave., E53-429, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA; e-mail: okedar@mit.edu.


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