Posted on September 19, 2014

Lighter-Skinned Minorities Are More Likely to Support Republicans

Spencer Piston, Washington Post, September 17, 2014


Which Latinos and Asian Americans might be most susceptible to Republican appeals? {snip}

Consistent with this line of thinking, the relationship between skin color and partisan preferences among Latinos and Asian Americans is illustrated below. I begin by analyzing a nationally representative sample of Latino citizens interviewed as part of 2012 American National Election Studies (ANES). The following plots show predicted values of party identification and predicted probabilities of voting for Democratic candidates in 2012. These are based on analyses that also account for education, age, gender, income, and whether people were born in the United States.


The results show that lighter-skinned Latinos are more likely than darker-skinned Latinos to identify as Republican and to vote for Republicans. For example, in the 2012 election for Senate, the darkest-skinned Latinos are estimated to have a 98 percent chance of voting for the Democrat, whereas the lightest-skinned Latinos are estimated to have a 43 percent chance.

Unfortunately, the ANES has too few Asian Americans to run a comparable analysis. Moreover, skin color was measured by the interviewer, perhaps imperfectly. It is possible that an interviewer’s estimate of a respondent’s skin color is influenced by the interviewer’s perceptions of the respondent’s political views–if, for example, the interviewer holds a stereotype that Obama supporters are dark-skinned.

To address these limitations, I examine an additional dataset: the recently released 2008 Collaborative Multi-racial Post-election Survey (CMPS). This survey conducted interviews with a large number of Asian-American registered voters, including interviews in Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese. Furthermore, the measure of skin tone is obtained through self-reporting, mitigating concerns about interviewer biases.

The graphs below reveal a pattern for Asian Americans that is similar to that of Latinos, albeit somewhat attenuated: light-skinned Asian Americans are more likely than dark-skinned Asian Americans to identify as Republican and vote for Republicans if they are lighter-skinned. The one exception is the relationship between skin tone and voting Democrat for Senate in 2008, which does not reach conventional standards of statistical significance.



The self-reported measure of skin tone is undoubtedly imperfect as well. Still, it is striking that across two different ethnic groups, two national datasets, and two different modes of measuring skin tone, lighter-skinned individuals are more likely than dark-skinned individuals to prefer Republicans.