Following a False Trail: The Hunt for White Backlash in Kentucky’s 1996 Desegregation Vote

D. Stephen Voss, Penny Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


We test the “white backlash” hypothesis—that white racial conservatism grows as black population density increases—using methods and data parallel to those upon which the concept was originally developed. A 1996 Kentucky referendum vote to strike school segregation from the state constitution serves as a rare measure of “old-fashioned racism.” We estimate the white vote for segregation using ecological inference techniques, and show that the county-level pattern of white segregationist support for this referendum actually runs in the opposite direction from that predicted by the backlash hypothesis. Precinct-level Kentucky analysis and county-level analysis of a related South Carolina referendum validate our finding against the white backlash hypothesis. We conclude that the frequent failure of recent research to find white backlash, especially among urban voters, therefore cannot be explained away by the absence of measures of old-fashioned racism. Rather, the geographical pattern of American racial conservatism seems to have changed since the successes of the Civil Rights movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-80
Number of pages19
JournalState Politics and Policy Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 11 2001

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2001 State Politics and Policy Organized Section of the American Political Science Association

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations


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