Despite growing ideological diversity within the group, black Americans have been able to maintain their overwhelmingly unified support for the Democratic Party. We argue that black Democratic partisanship is upheld, in part, through black Americans’ use of social sanctions (both positive and negative) to encourage compliance with a group norm of Democratic Party support. Leveraging the exogenous assignment of racial social context provided by the race of interviewer in face-to-face American National Election survey interviews of black respondents, we demonstrate the racialized social imperative of black Democratic Party identification. We show that black respondents are more likely to identify as Democrats in the presence of other blacks, particularly those whose conservative ideological placement provides cross-pressuring incentive to otherwise make an alternative partisan choice. Our social explanation of black partisan homogeneity is a significant departure from previous accounts that have focused almost exclusively on attitudinal ascriptions to racial shared fate.
Ismail K. White is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Duke University. He studies American politics with a focus on African American politics, public opinion, and political participation.