PS: Political Science & Politics


Cues, Endorsements, and Heresthetic in a High-profile Election: Racial Polarization in Durham, North Carolina?

Christian R.  Grose  a1
a1 Vanderbilt University

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Did voters in Durham, North Carolina divide along racial lines in the high-profile May 2, 2006, primary election for Durham district attorney? The results of an analysis of the primary vote by race suggest there were not major racial divisions: winner Mike Nifong received about the same percentage of support from African-American voters as from voters who are not African American. However, it seems likely, and I argue here, that Nifong used the high-profile prosecution of the Duke lacrosse rape case to win over some African-American and White voters in what otherwise might have been a low-key, low-information local election. This case and its allegations are sordid and appalling, and have garnered substantial national media attention. I contend that Nifong aggressively pursued prosecution as a way of representing what he perceived was his constituents' interests in justice for the alleged victim (though some have subsequently questioned his prosecution of the case); this aggressive prosecution's public nature likely had electoral ramifications. Further, supporting recent work on race and electoral politics, I show that traditional racial cues were critically important in other concurrently held Durham elections, though not in Nifong's race for district attorney. Nifong, a White candidate, defeated another White candidate and an African-American candidate in a county that is 51% White and 40% African-American (based on those identifying as only one race in the 2000 census).