Focus Policy Blog


50 Years of the Voting Rights Act

The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies recently released 50 Years of the Voting Rights Act: The State of Race in Politics. The report is critical to understanding the impact of the Act and the future of voting rights. The report provides data on minority voter turnout, racially polarized voting, policy outcomes by race, and the number of minority elected officials from the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 until today. Click here for a 2-page summary of the report.

Click here to read the full 46-page report, which is authored by Professors Khalilah Brown-Dean, Zoltan Hajnal, Christina Rivers, and Ismail White.

Key findings:

  • The black/white racial gap in voter turnout has decreased dramatically in presidential elections since 1965.
  • Local election turnout is generally less than half of presidential general election turnout. As overall turnout declines in local elections, the electorate may become less diverse.
  • Turnout rates among both Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans in presidential elections remain 15 to 20 points below white Americans.
  • Since 1960, the party identification and partisan voting patterns of blacks and whites have become sharply divided.
  • In urban local elections, race is a more decisive factor than income, education, political ideology, religion, sexual orientation, age, gender, and political ideology.
  • Based on available data from 1972 to 2010, blacks were the least successful group in America in terms of policy outcomes.
  • Since 1965, the number of elected officials of color has grown enormously, but people of color remain underrepresented in elected office.

For an overview of the report, see the Washington Post, BlackPressUSA, The Nation, and Zoltan Hajnal discussing the report on the PBS NewsHour. Also, see this article “The Voting Rights Act Thirty Years Later” published by the Joint Center in 1995 and written by David Garrow, who authored Protest at Selma and Bearing the Cross, won the Pulitzer Prize, and was a visiting fellow at the Joint Center in 1984. >