On Election Day last year -- and over the weekend preceding it -- the airwaves were flooded with reports of endless lines at the polls, complete with photos of voters queued for hours, their faces a mixture of resolution and lifelessness. The pile-ups followed months of attempts by states across the country to pass restrictive voting laws -- lopping hours or days off the time when citizens could vote (sometimes with admittedly race-based intentions) or requiring voters to present IDs (sometimes with admittedly partisan intentions).
We know what happened: Minorities still turned out at record rates, and President Obama cruised to victory. But it wasn't clear whether those anecdotal stories sketched an accurate story, and to what extent the new laws (when allowed to stand) and lines had contributed -- until now. A paper by MIT's Charles Stewart digs into the data behind the anecdotes and finds that the affects of long lines are just as appallingly disparate as you might fear:
Viewed nationally, African Americans waited an average of 23 minutes to vote, compared to 12 minutes for whites; Hispanics waited 19 minutes. While there are other individual-level demographic difference present in the responses, none stands out as much as race.
What's impressive is how comparatively little variation there was in other demographic categories:
- The average wait time among those with household incomes less than $30,000 was 12 minutes versus 14 minutes for those with household incomes greater than $100,000.
- Strong Democrats waited an average of 16 minutes versus 11 minutes for strong Republicans.
- Respondents who said they paid close attention to the news waited 13.2 minutes; those who said they had little interest waited 12.8 minutes.
- Residents of the wealthiest ZIP codes (average household incomes of $50,000 and up) waited 13 minutes, versus 12 minutes for residents of the poorest ZIP codes ($30,000 and below).