The Voting Rights Act: Black Political Mobilization and White Counter-Mobilization

From the end of Reconstruction until the passage of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965, African Americans in the U.S. South have endured suppression of their constitutional rights to vote by violence, intimidation and institutionalized disenfranchisement. The success of the VRA in dismantling institutional barriers to African American political participation is clear, but did it also win hearts and minds in the racially conservative South? Establishing a causal link between the VRA and the response of the white and the Black electorate has, thus far, been impaired by the lack of data on race-specific political preferences and voting behavior at the local level. In this paper, we make progress on this issue by exploiting a unique dataset on county level voter registration rates by race to estimate whether the VRA led to racial integration, or if instead triggered white backlash.