Avidit Acharya, Matt Blackwell, Maya Sen
How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics
Princeton University Press 2018
Several weeks ago, we had Professor Lilliana Mason on the podcast talking about her book about the process of social sorting that has deepened divides between citizens by aligning race, religion, and region. Mason argues that social sorting acts on a psychological-level, shaping how not just how people view policy but also political opponents.
This week on the podcast, Matt Blackwell and Maya Sen extend this conversation back into history. In Deep Roots: How Slavery Still Shapes Southern Politics (Princeton University Press, 2018), the authors (with Avidit Acharya) argue that views on race have deeply historical roots, passed on across generations through cultural practices and other institutional mechanisms. They call this behavioral path dependence. Using sophisticated statistical analysis, they find that the long, disturbing legacy of slavery can be observed in the variation of attitudes of those living in different southern communities. In counties where slavery thrived in the 1860s (compared to similar counties in the south where slavery was less prevalent), white citizens hold significantly more hostile views of African Americans and express less support for race-related public policies. Interestingly, when they compare residents in those same two types of southern counties, their non-race views on other conservative issues, such as abortion, are essentially the same. Thus, the legacy of slavery is not in general conservative beliefs, but in specific and negative views on race.
Avidit Acharya is assistant professor of political science at Stanford University. Matthew Blackwell is assistant professor of government at Harvard University. Maya Sen is associate professor of public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.