Studies in American Political Development

Research Article

Explaining the Contemporary Alignment of Race and Party: Evidence from California's 1946 Ballot Initiative on Fair Employment

Anthony S. Chena1, Robert W. Mickeya2 and Robert P. Van Houwelinga3

a1 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

a2 University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

a3 University of California, Berkeley


Why do most African Americans and other racial liberals vote Democratic, whereas most racial conservatives—largely whites—vote Republican? To what extent is this alignment of race and party attributable to the strategic choice of GOP elites to take the party in a racially conservative direction during the mid-1960s? This paper exploits a little-known ballot initiative in postwar California to shed light on the question. Proposition 11, as it was known, would have outlawed discrimination in employment if it had passed. Instead, it failed by more than a two-to-one margin. Drawing on archival and statistical evidence, including the ecological analysis of precinct-level election returns, we find that Republican voters were much more likely than Democratic voters to oppose Proposition 11, despite Republican Governor Earl Warren's well-known support for fair employment practices (FEP) legislation. We conclude that many Republican voters tended strongly toward racial conservatism well before Republican elites decided to pursue racially conservative policies in the mid-1960s. We suggest that the emergence of the contemporary alignment of race and party may have been less contingent on elite strategy and more structurally determined than the conventional wisdom allows.


Anthony S. Chen is Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Robert W. Mickey is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Robert P. Van Houweling is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Berkeley. The authors would like to thank Jack Citrin, John Ellwood, Ben Highton, Dan Kryder, Taeku Lee, Christopher Parker, Eric Schickler, and attentive audiences at the Berkeley's Colloquium on Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration and the Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association in Baltimore, MD. The authors would also like to thank the reviewers and editors at Studies for their insightful comments and suggestions. Katherine Luke provided excellent research assistance. All three are grateful for the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Scholars in Health Policy Research Program, and especially its UC-Berkeley site. Please direct correspondence for the authors to,, or