Evan Soltas
Mar 17, 2016

Trump and Nonwhite Names

This piece from David Wasserman is, in my view, one of the most interesting perspectives on the role that racism and xenophobia are playing in the 2016 Republican primary. Wasserman:

If Donald Trump somehow falls three delegates short of reaching the magic 1,237 delegates needed for the Republican nomination, he may be haunted by an obscure outcome from the primary voting in Illinois on Tuesday. There’s clear evidence that Trump supporters in Illinois gave fewer votes to Trump-pledged delegate candidates who have minority or foreign-sounding names like “Sadiq,” “Fakroddin” and “Uribe,” potentially costing him three of the state’s 69 delegates. This pattern appears to be a phenomenon unique to Trump’s supporters.
His test of the hypothesis is informal but compelling. He compares the names of the Trump delegates who came in last and those who came in first within each district. The idea was interesting enough to me, though, that it deserved a more rigorous test.

Why do I find this set-up so compelling? First, due to an unusual primary voting system in Illinois, we have multiple delegates running for the same candidate, and delegates' names appear on the ballot, which allows me to isolate the effect of bias from the effect of political disagreement. Donald Trump isn't any different whether you let one Raja Sadiq represent him, or whether you give that job to a Doug Hartmann—one just happens to be white, and the other is not. Second, we have multiple candidates running for the same nomination. Third, we have multiple districts in which these votes are occurring simultaneously. These three factors practically create a laboratory to test bias among Trump voters.

I took the same data as Wasserman but for all 458 individuals who ran to Republican delegates for Illinois—multiple individuals run for each presidential candidate—recording their first and last names, the candidate they represented, and the district in which they ran.

Then I did something simple. I mapped data from the 2000 Census on the racial breakdown of the population by last name to each of the candidates. The non-Hispanic white percentage of each last name, in particular, gave me an objective measure to test the phenomenon Wasserman discovered.

Importantly, the purpose isn't to determine whether any delegate is white or not—but rather what voters who are sensitive to race might think. About 95 percent of Americans last name "Schumann," for instance, are white; only about 5 percent with the last name "Fuentes" are.

Wasserman's discovery holds up in my test: Trump delegates won significantly more votes when they had "whiter" last names relative to other delegates in their district. This effect does not appear for any of the other Republican candidates, and it is strongest in districts with high Trump vote shares.

Trump delegates who were likely to be perceived as nonwhite, in particular, won about 2 percentage points less of the vote (95% confidence interval: 0.8 p.p. to 3.1 p.p. less) than those who were likely to be perceived as white. In the districts where Trump performed most strongly, the vote cost of a "nonwhite" last name was closer to 3 percentage points, as compared to no effect at all where Trump performed worst.

My conclusion from all this is that Trump voters are significantly more racially motivated than Illinois Republicans who did not vote for Trump. Since Donald Trump won Illinois by 8 percentage points, the effect was politically important but not decisive.

What I am going to do next with this is see if these results hold in the 2012 Republican primary and wait for Pennsylvania, which also has a primary system in which delegates' names appear on the ballot.

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My data are available here: CSV format, DTA format

Update (3/18/16): By popular demand, and because I agree that open science should mean "push-button replication," my .DO file is available here. It will allow you to replicate my results in Stata.

Update (3/21/16): I now have done this analysis for the 2012 Illinois primary. Non-Romney delegates (i.e. mostly those for Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum) received a 0.9 percentage point boost (95% CI: 0.2 p.p. to 1.7 p.p.) for names that were likely to be perceived as white. No significant patterns by perceived race appeared for Romney delegates.