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 an ethnic minority group? This question is well studied in the comparative context, but less is known about the effects of explicitly racist state activity in liberal democracies such as the United States. We investigate this question by looking at an important event in American history—the internment of people of Japanese ancestry during World War II. We find that Japanese Americans who were interned or had family who were interned are significantly less politically engaged and that these patterns of disengagement increase with internment length. Using an identification strategy leveraging quasi-random camp assignment, we also find that camp experience matters: those who went to camps that witnessed intragroup violence or strikes experienced sharper declines, suggesting that group fragmentation is an important mechanism of disengagement. Taken together, our findings contribute to a growing literature documenting the demobilizing effects of ethnically targeted detention and expand our understanding of these forces within the U.S.

Last updated on 04/13/2021