HomeLearning CenterHow Peer Pressure Affects Voting

How Peer Pressure Affects Voting

Originally published by David Leonhardt for the New York Times

The political scientists Chryl Laird and Ismail White used a creative strategy several years ago to study the voting patterns of Black Americans. Laird and White took advantage of the fact that some surveys are conducted through in-person interviews — and keep track of the interviewer’s race — while other surveys are done online.

In the online surveys that Laird and White examined, about 85 percent of Black respondents identified as Democrats. The share was almost identical during in-person surveys done by non-Black interviewers. But when Black interviewers conducted in-person surveys, more than 95 percent of Black respondents identified as Democrats.

It is a fascinating pattern: Something about talking with a person of the same race makes Black Americans more likely to say they are Democrats. As Laird and White concluded, voting for Democrats has been a behavioral norm in Black communities. People feel social pressure from their neighbors, relatives and friends to support the Democratic Party.

Similar social pressure exists in other communities, of course. A liberal who attends a white evangelical Southern church — or a conservative who lives in an upscale Brooklyn neighborhood — knows the feeling. And Laird and White emphasized in their 2020 book, “Steadfast Democrats,” that Black Americans have behaved rationally by sticking together. It has allowed them to assert political influence despite being a minority group. Consider that President Biden’s vice president and his only Supreme Court pick are both Black.

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