Andrea Benjamin, "Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections: Elite Cues and Cross-Ethnic Voting" (Cambridge UP, 2017)

Exchanges: A Cambridge UP Podcast

Aug 13 2020 • 47 mins

What explains voting behavior in local elections? More specifically, what explains how ethnic and racial blocs vote in local elections, especially when the candidate may be of a different race or ethnicity? These are the main question animating the research in Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections: Elite Cues and Cross-Ethnic Voting (Cambridge University Press, 2017). Political Scientist Andrea Benjamin examines the coalitions that form in local elections and the roles that they play in those elections. Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections outlines not only the most successful form of coalitions between different groups of people, but also tries to get at what might prompt the elite members of those groups to advocate to voters to cast their ballots for a candidate, especially a candidate from a different ethnic or racial group. Using a variety of complex data sets, including experimental surveys to try to tease out distinctions within racial and ethnic groups in terms of mayoral candidate selections, Benjamin’s research focuses on how Black and Latinx voting coalitions in major cities are open to shifting their support for mayoral candidates. Benjamin was most interested in examining the impact of cross-ethnic voting cues and how elite endorsements within the Black and Latinx communities might move voters to vote across racial and ethnic lines. Often coalitions are formed when candidates need to reach across interest areas in order to build a large enough bloc to elect a candidate. As Benjamin points out in the book, mayoral elections often cut across expected partisan lines, which is why these coalitions are fascinating to explore. Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections examines the reasons why groups of people shift or support one candidate more than others. The data includes 20 years of mayoral races in the largest cities in the United States and traces out voting shifts in mayoral elections in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Houston. This is supplemented by experimental surveys that mirrored voter data from these races while building on some of the conclusions about endorsements, candidate preferences, and racial coalitions. Andrea Benjamin also discusses how co-ethnic cues provide the theoretical framework for her analysis. The co-ethnic cue theory notes that “[w]hen partisan cues are absent and race/ethnicity is salient in an election, co-ethnic endorsements should prompt minority group members to vote for that candidate, even if that candidate is from another ethnic group.” (Benjamin, 8). Benjamin explains that if there is a race between a black candidate and a Latino candidate, the expectation is that each ethnic group will support the candidate with whom they share ethnicity; but, for example, if there is a race between a white candidate and a Latinx candidate, Black voters will likely support the candidate supported by most Black leaders in that community. Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections explains why this is the coalition dynamic, then unpacks what coalitions may be most effective and why, contextualized within the political dynamics in the cities themselves. Eli Levitas-Goren assisted with this podcast. Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).