Jennifer Hochschild in her office

Voting behaviors among non-whites changing due to growing income disparities, professor says

April 26, 2017

Is socio-economic class, rather than race, becoming a stronger indicator of how a person might vote? It’s a question that Jennifer L. Hochschild, an expert on American politics and co-author of the book Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in American Politics, sought to answer during a recent lecture at Clark University. Titled “‘Here They Treat Us Like a Different Race’: Political Implications of Class-In-Race Inequality,” the lecture was part of the Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar program.

Hochschild, the Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government and professor of African American Studies at Harvard University, investigated how growing income disparities among non-white people might lead to a starker contrast in their political views. Although people of the same racial and ethnic groups often are portrayed as having relatively similar political and social views, Hochschild argues that there might be more to the story.

“What we used to think was deep, racial solidarity is now dividing because of class divisions within the non-white population,” said Hochschild, past president of the American Political Science Association. “We do see a rise in intra-group class disparities — in income, wealth and educational attainment — with mostly growth at the top rather than decline into poverty at the bottom.”

To illustrate the effect of growing class disparities, Hochschild discussed the differences in the experiences of various income groups. Using evidence from the American National Election Studies, she showed how an increase in income inequality is reflected in the changes in political attitudes and preferences within non-white groups from the mid-1980s to 2012.

She discovered that although African-Americans and members of the Latinx (Latino/Latina) community continue to express strong group loyalty, those who have higher incomes are less likely than those with lower incomes to support government welfare expenditures. She also found that lower-income African-Americans and members of the Latinx community are becoming more likely to show commitment to their class, as opposed to their racial/ethnic group.

Because of these differences, income disparities among non-white groups must be taken into consideration when trying to predict the voting behaviors of these groups in future elections, she said.

“Until relatively recently, the black and Latinx populations were unified across classes about being on the left,” Hochschild said. “What we might be now seeing is a growing division within the black and Latinx populations in racially focused policies and economically focused policies. If that’s true, that makes the world very complicated for both the Republican and Democratic parties.”

Hochschild’s lecture was part of a March 23-24 event sponsored by Clark’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society and the Center for Gender, Race, and Area Studies (CGRAS). Throughout the two days, individual events were hosted by the Office of the President, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the departments of Biology, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, History, English, and Political Science through the Chester Bland Fund.

The two-day event also included a colloquium and master class on “Trump’s Election and Presidency: What Happened? And What Happens Next?,” as well as a reception and discussion on Hochschild’s book.

Photo of Jennifer Hochschild by Stephanie Mitchell, staff photographer, Harvard University