Prof Charles Crabtree, Dartmouth College
In this article, we present the results from a novel large-scale field experimental technique designed to measure racial bias among the American public and their elected officials. We conducted the first audit study on the public—sending correspondence to 250,000 randomly-drawn citizens—and also paired that with the largest audit study of public officials to date. Our within-subjects experimental design tested the public’s and their elected officials’ responsiveness to simple requests for help from either an ostensibly Black or an ostensibly White sender. We show clearly that in everyday interactions, (on average) the public systematically discriminates against Blacks. This discrimination is rampant and suggests that the typical member of the public is at least as racially biased as their elected representatives. This suggests that improved democratic representation that more closely aligns elected officials with the preferences of their constituents may actually incentivize—rather than discourage, as many have assumed—elected officials to discriminate on the basis of race. Our results provide an instance that shows that even when elected officials are aligned with their constituents, democracy may realize outcomes that perpetuate long-lasting social inequalities like racial discrimination. Moreover, our results also provide a window into the discrimination that Blacks in this country face in day-to-day interactions with their fellow citizens.
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