DP14318 Racial Diversity, Electoral Preferences, and the Supply of Policy: the Great Migration and Civil Rights

Author(s): Alvaro Calderon, Vasiliki Fouka, Marco Tabellini
Publication Date: January 2020
Date Revised: October 2020
Keyword(s): civil rights, diversity, Great Migration, race
JEL(s): D72, J15, N92
Programme Areas: Labour Economics, Public Economics, Economic History
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=14318

Between 1940 and 1970, during the second Great Migration, more than 4 million African Americans moved from the South to the North of the United States. The Great Migration coincided with the rise of the civil rights movement, whose success marked a key turning point in the history of race relations in the US. In this paper, we show that these two events are causally linked. Predicting Black in-migration with a version of the shift-share instrument, we find that the Great Migration increased support for the Democratic Party and encouraged pro-civil rights activism, among both Black and (some) white voters. We also show that Black in-migration induced northern Congress members to more actively promote civil rights legislation. However, these average effects mask a steep rise in polarization. While the 1940s saw the replacement of moderate Republicans with increasingly liberal Democrats, the 1950s were characterized by a right-wing shift within the GOP. Overall, our findings suggest that, under certain conditions, cross-race coalitions can emerge, but also that higher support for racial equality may coincide with higher political polarization.