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.