This is the reality that drives minority fears of a country in regression. The survey’s respondents, as a whole, were actually more likely than those of any PRRI sample over the past seven years to report that things in the country are going in the right direction. But 86 percent of black respondents and 74 percent of Hispanic respondents believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. That finding is supported by data from other pollsters that suggest that the vast majority of black people are facing levels of anxiety and fear about the future that are unprecedented in recent memory.
More troublesome still, previous data from 2016 show that there are good reasons for those fears. In the same year that a federal court decried North Carolina’s voter-ID laws as deliberately discriminatory machinations that “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” similar laws—which require identification at the ballot box that low-income, black, and Latino voters are less likely than middle-class whites to have—changed electoral outcomes in other states. In Wisconsin, a study found that the number of Democrats who didn’t vote because they lacked proper ID exceeded Trump’s margin of victory, and that the biggest decreases in turnout were in black neighborhoods, a clear signal that race-based voter suppression was in play. Republican officials in the state said that the voter-ID law might have been powerful enough to change the outcome of the presidential election in Wisconsin.
For black voters especially, the prospect of voter suppression fueling minority disenfranchisement nationwide isn’t an idea that takes much imagination. Accordingly, 68 percent of black respondents in the PRRI poll think that disenfranchisement is a major problem, and a similar proportion believe that disenfranchisement is the biggest electoral problem in America.
“When you want to look at the issue where perhaps there is the largest difference by race and ethnicity when it comes to voting and the election system [it’s] on this question of disenfranchisement,” Cox said. “Only 27 percent of white Americans say that eligible voters being denied the right to vote is a major problem today, and you have really strong majorities of black and Hispanic Americans—six in 10, roughly—saying that it is a major concern.”
As Cox noted, unlike the major divides on most survey questions between whites with and without college degrees, these two groups responded pretty much identically when it came to their low prioritization of disenfranchisement. That suggests that concern about disenfranchisement arises from experience, not necessarily from party or ideological affiliation.
Reflecting the distribution of the greater population, black and Hispanic respondents were most likely to live in the American South. Their voting patterns and concerns were thus likely to be affected by the region’s history of disenfranchisement, as well as its newer voting laws and barriers. For example, 37 percent of white respondents reported that their parents had taken them to a voting booth when they were children, versus 24 percent of black respondents and 18 percent of Hispanics. In a region where, because of Jim Crow, many middle-aged or older people of color may not have had a parent who was even eligible to vote during their childhood, voting simply isn’t as established an intergenerational civic institution as it is in white communities—even as it faces new threats today.