Home > News > Black women are willing to wait longer in line to vote than any other demographic group
165 views 7 min 0 Comment

Black women are willing to wait longer in line to vote than any other demographic group

Black voters’ greater determination to vote — despite longer lines — may influence election results

- April 21, 2021

Before the November 2020 elections, the news media warned that citizens might have to wait in line for a long time — perhaps longer than usual, given the pandemic’s social distancing requirements. Voting rights advocates noted that areas with high concentrations of Black, Brown, poor and otherwise underprivileged citizens were given fewer polling places and voting booths per capita than areas serving well-off White voters — which would lead to longer wait times, potentially disenfranchising those voters.

That’s common. Researchers routinely find that non-White Americans wait longer to vote. One study found that non-White voters in 2016 were seven times as likely as Whites to wait longer than one hour to vote. Another study showed that lines in communities that were predominantly non-White were about twice as long as in those in predominantly White communities. Such disparities can discourage citizens from voting in the short run — and from even trying to vote later on. In fact, political scientist Stephen Pettigrew estimates that for every additional hour someone waits in line to vote, their probability of voting in the next election drops by 1 percentage point. This concern is especially troublesome given recent legislative efforts to restrict voting in at least 47 states.

So how long are Americans willing to wait to vote? The answer varies by race and other demographic characteristics, our research found.

How we did our research

To understand this and other factors in voting, my Northeastern University research team studied wait times and attitudes during the November 2020 presidential election. As part of that project, we partnered with YouGov to conduct a survey of 1,750 Americans, weighted to be nationally representative, that probed Americans’ willingness to wait in line to vote.

Voter suppression started long before Jim Crow. It’s a longstanding American tradition.

Black women are willing to wait longest to cast their ballots

Broken down by race, the weighted results found Black Americans reported being willing to wait longer to vote than any other racial group we examined. On average, Black voters overall reported that they were willing to wait more than three hours to vote, or 197 minutes. Whites were willing to wait almost three hours, or an average of 177 minutes. For Asian Americans that average was 171 minutes, and for Latinos just 146 minutes. Racial differences overall were statistically significant.

We also examined gender differences and found that men were willing to wait significantly longer on average — 187 minutes, compared to 164 minutes for women. But that too varied by race. Among all groups by gender and race, Black women were willing to wait to vote the longest — 202 minutes, followed by Black men at 191 minutes, White men at 184 minutes, Latino men at 182 minutes, White women at 170 minutes, and Latinas at 110 minutes.

Professors, check out TMC’s Black Lives Matter topic guide for classroom discussion.

Democrats are willing to wait longer than Republicans

Across partisan groups, Democrats were willing to wait considerably longer on average — 198 minutes, compared to both independents, at 175 minutes, or Republicans, at 148 minutes. That’s not just because more Blacks are Democrats. While slicing the data too finely with limited sample sizes is inherently risky, we find White Democrats are willing to wait longer to vote than White Republicans, and Black Democrats are willing to wait longer than Black Republicans.

Although we can take the precision of these estimates with a grain of salt, the overall patterns are striking. To cast their ballots, some groups of voters are simply more ready to assume greater costs — at least as measured in waiting time — than others.

That willingness to wait can make the difference in who wins. Consider Georgia, which went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by only 12,000 votes in 2020. Between 2000 and 2019, the Black eligible voter population in Georgia increased more than that of any other racial group, accounting for nearly half the state’s total electorate growth. Despite this growth, long lines at the polls routinely plague elections in Georgia, often affecting non-White voters the most.

More than 1.4 million Black Georgians voted in the 2020 presidential election, with just over half voting early, either in person or by mail. That means about 700,000 Black Georgians waited in line Nov. 3, 2020, and roughly 88 percent of them voted for Joe Biden. Even if just 2 percent of those voters encountered long lines and were willing to endure longer wait times than were other voters, it could have accounted for Biden’s margin of victory in the state.

Long voting lines are unlikely to disappear soon, especially in states where Republican-dominated legislatures are limiting mail-in and early voting systems — pushing more citizens to have to vote on Election Day itself. Black voters may be most likely to be given fewer polling places and therefore encounter long voting lines on Election Day across the country, but on average, they are also willing to wait longer to cast ballots. This patience — or tenacity — may counteract efforts to disenfranchise these voters by adopting policies that create, by design or default, long lines to vote.

Don’t miss any of TMC’s smart analysis! Sign up for our newsletter.

Costas Panagopoulos (@professorcostas) is professor of political science and chair of the department of political science at Northeastern University, and author of “Bases Loaded: How U.S. Presidential Campaigns Are Changing and Why It Matters” (Oxford University Press, 2020).

Read more:

TMC’s Race and Ethnic Politics topic guide

What the rise and fall of Jim Crow laws can teach today’s voting rights advocates

What might happen if Democrats succeed in expanding voting? California has some answers.

The Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act case could gut civil rights protections. Then what?

Stacey Abrams’s success in Georgia builds on generations of Black women’s organizing