Revealing Discriminatory Intent: Legislator Preferences, Voter Identification, and Responsiveness Bias

Source: Matthew S. Mendez, Christian R. Grose, University of Southern California, USC CLASS Research Paper No. 14-17, May 1, 2014

From the abstract:
Is bias in responsiveness to constituents conditional on the policy preferences of elected officials? The scholarly conventional wisdom is that constituency groups who do not receive policy representation still obtain some level of responsiveness by legislators outside of the policy realm. In contrast, we present a theory of preference-induced responsiveness bias where constituency responsiveness by legislators is associated with legislator policy preferences. Elected officials who favor laws harming minority groups are also less likely to engage in non-policy responsiveness to minority groups. To test this proposition, we conducted a field experiment in 28 U.S. legislative chambers. Legislators were randomly assigned to receive messages from Latino, Anglo, English-speaking, and Spanish-speaking constituents asking if a driver’s license is required for voting. If legislators supported voter identification, Latino constituents were less likely than Anglo constituents to receive communications from legislators. The implication is that discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws.