A voter gets directions on how to use the electronic voting booth at a Board of Elections early-voting site Oct. 18, 2012, in Wilson, N.C.
Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

Researchers from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication have released a new study suggesting that photographs of black Americans using voting machines affect white respondents’ support of voter-ID laws.

According to the study (pdf), when white survey respondents saw an image of black Americans using ballot machines, they had stronger support for voter ID than those who did not see the image. Furthermore, seeing white Americans using ballot machines had no impact on respondents’ support of the controversial laws.


“Our findings suggest that public opinion about voter-ID laws can be racialized by simply showing images of African-American people,” David C. Wilson, who helped supervise the nationwide study, said.

For the survey, which was conducted online in 2012, respondents were divided into three groups, one of which saw an image of black voters, one that saw an image of white voters and one that saw no image at all.

In the first group, which saw a picture of black voters, 73 percent of white respondents said that they favored voter-ID laws. This is in comparison with the white respondents in the remaining two groups, who were 67 percent in favor.

The 6-percentage-point difference is big enough to be statistically significant, researchers say.


“Majorities in all three groups favored voter-ID laws, but the margin was wider when white respondents saw a black person using a voting machine,” Wilson said.

The images were shown to have no real effect on black and Hispanic respondents’ support for the laws, but the sample did include fewer respondents from these racial and ethnic groups.


Voter-ID laws have stirred controversy in the political scene. Supporters believe they are a way to inhibit voter fraud, while critics say they disenfranchise members of minority groups.

The study, which was published in Race and Social Problems journal, used a representative sample of 1,436 U.S. adults.


Read more about the study here (pdf).