A natural experiment of race-based and issue voting: The 2001 city of Los Angeles elections

Marisa A. Abrajano, Jonathan Nagler, R. Michael Alvarez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The theory of racially polarized voting suggests that race is a primary determinant of vote choice in elections where a minority candidate is pitted against a white candidate. The spatial model of voting suggests that voters consider the issue positions of candidates and choose the candidate closest to their own positions. The unique context of the 2001 Los Angeles city election allows us to test these two theories. In each of two races in this election, a Latino candidate competed against a white candidate. In one race the white candidate was considered more liberal, while in the other race the Latino candidate was seen as more liberal. This particular ethnic and ideological composition provides us with a natural experimenting which to test the two competing theories. While voter ethnicity mattered, we show that consistent with the spatial model, voters also relied on issues and ideology as factors in their voting choices. By considering the choices voters are making in two different elections, we argue that estimates of the extent of racial voting in previous research may be overstated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-218
Number of pages16
JournalPolitical Research Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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