In my book, Racial Coalition Building in Local Elections: Elite Cues and Cross-Ethnic Voting, I explore how Black and Latino voters use cues from co-ethnic’s when making candidate choices in local elections. This book examines racial and ethnic coalition building in local elections and considers Black and Latino political incorporation more broadly. While some argue that Black and Latino voters have much to gain from alliances that advance shared interests, coalitions between the two groups have not always formed easily or been stable over time. My book seeks to explain variations in vote choice among these groups and the specific conditions under which Blacks and Latinos vote for the same candidate. Drawing on large-n observational data, survey experiments, and qualitative case studies, I develop a theory of co-ethnic endorsements, which points to the significance of elite cues from Black and Latino leaders. I demonstrate that voters use elite co-ethnic endorsements to help inform their votes, that they do so particularly when race is salient in an election, and that this has real implications for representation and access to political benefits. This year several cities elected women to the Mayor’s office: Charlotte, NC, New Orleans, LA, and it looks like Atlanta, GA will follow suit. More research is needed to determine how voters use endorsements when women run for mayor.

One limitation of my book is that I don’t explore where the co-ethnic endorsements come from. For my new project, I interviewed the leaders of three Political Action Committees in Durham, NC: The Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, the Friends of Durham, and People’s Alliance. Despite some differences in terms of process (candidate interviews and questionnaires) the one constant for all three organizations was the ability for the members of the organizations to deliberate about who should get the endorsements. Each PAC believes they provide voters with valuable information about which candidates to support.

It’s not clear how much voters are aware of these endorsements in the real world. For my new project, I conducted two Exit Polls in Durham during the last two municipal elections. Of the 343 respondents in the 2015 Exit Poll, 45% of the respondents said that the endorsements were very important or somewhat important, while 30% said the endorsements were not important at all. Of the 696 respondents in the 2017 Exit Poll, 52% of the of the respondents said that the endorsements were very important or somewhat important, while 22% said the endorsements were not important at all. So how aware are voters of these endorsements?

It turns out, the voters in Durham are very aware of the PAC endorsements, but this is not about PAC membership (in the 2017 sample, less than 100 respondents claimed to be members of any PAC). Still, many could correctly identify the PAC endorsements. For the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, 35% could correctly identify the mayoral candidate endorsed by that PAC. For the Friends of Durham: 14% could correctly identify the mayoral candidate endorsed by the PAC. Finally, for the People’s Alliance, 47% correctly identified the mayoral candidate endorsed by the PAC. During the 2015 Durham Municipal Election, 20% correctly identified the People’s Alliances’ endorsements and 18% identified the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People endorsements.

The results from Durham help contextualize the findings in my book: endorsements can help candidates build coalitions. The organizations offer endorsements to provide the voters with useful information, the voters are aware of this information, and a candidate seeking to build coalitions should seek out these endorsements.

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