The Political Consequences of Ethnically Targeted Incarceration: Evidence from Japanese-American Internment During WWII

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What are the downstream political consequences of state activity explicitly targeting a racial or ethnic minority group? This question is well studied in the comparative context, but less is known about the effects of racist state activity on minority groups in liberal western democracies such as the United States. We investigate this question by looking at a significant and tragic event in American history---the mass internment of people of Japanese descent during World War II. We find that Japanese Americans who were interned are significantly less likely to have faith in government or be politically active and this demobilizing effect increases with internment length. In terms of the mechanism behind this demobilization, we find that camp experience matters: those who went to camps that witnessed violence or strikes had sharper declines in faith in government, levels of interest in U.S. politics, and willingness to protest against internment. Taken together, our findings both contribute to a growing literature documenting the demobilizing effects of ethnically targeted incarceration and expand our understanding of these forces within the U.S.

Last updated on 11/12/2019