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.
In Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the argument that intervening history had attenuated many voting inequalities between blacks and whites. But how, where, and by how much have things changed, and does history still predict voting inequalities today? We show that parts of the American South where slavery was more prevalent in the 1860s are today areas with lower average black voter turnout, larger numbers of election lawsuits alleging race-related constitutional violations, and more racial polarization in party identification. To explain this, we develop a theory of behavioral path dependence, which we distinguish from other theories of path dependence. We show evidence of behavioral path dependence demonstrating that disfranchisement can linger over time and that the effects of restrictions on voting rights can persist culturally.
We provide a theory of the spread and decline of violence in a structured population. Engaging in violence towards a particular target group of individuals shapes the attitudes of individuals in the perpetrating group. We focus on situations where violence has private costs and provides local benefits to the perpetrating group only socially. The free rider problem is overcome when individuals from the perpetrating group imitate members of their local community who received high payoffs in the previous period. When the typical benefits to violence are high in comparison to the private costs, violence spreads. Violence then begins to decline when these benefits become relatively low. Individuals who engage in violence start developing negative attitudes towards the target group, so as to minimize cognitive dissonance. Similarly, individuals who initially hold negative attitudes towards the target group, but do not engage in violence, gradually develop more favorable attitudes. A key prediction of our theory is that the attitudes produced by violence may last longer than the violence itself. We apply our theory to explain how the incentives for labor coercion against newly freed slaves in the postbellum U.S. South produced racially hostile attitudes among Southern whites, and how these attitudes may have been transmitted locally across generations, to present times. We discuss the evidence supporting this theory.