When The Times released its joint poll with CBS on race last week, its most eye-catching finding was that a majority of Americans have a negative view of race relations, a sharp reversal of expectations following Barack Obama’s election in 2008. But deeper in the results was a telling data point relating to the recent proliferation of state laws and policies having to do with access to voting, the topic of the cover story I wrote for this week’s magazine. One question in the poll asked respondents whether they believed laws and policies that restrict absentee and early voting — overwhelmingly championed by Republicans — were devised to save money or to make it harder for minorities to vote. Nearly 80 percent of the black respondents who had an opinion on the new voting rules said they were devised to make it harder for minorities to vote; only about 20 percent of them said the changes were devised to save money. Among whites who had an opinion on the new rules and regulations, the split was fairly even: 45 percent said the rules were to save money, while 46 percent said they were to make it harder for minorities to vote. (Whites were more likely than blacks to say they had not heard enough to have an opinion, at 53 percent compared with 40 percent.)
This fits into a broader picture in which views of the fairness of the electoral process diverge sharply by race. Fifty percent of black voters, the New York Times/CBS poll found, believe blacks were most likely to encounter problems when voting. About 24 percent of whites agreed with them. Virtually no respondents of either race said white people were.
In Washington, where everything is seen through the lens of electoral scorekeeping, the discussion around these laws centers on whether they will ultimately hurt black turnout. There is evidence that in some casesthey have and that in others they have had the opposite effect, galvanizing blacks to vote in greater numbers. But the poll findings make clear that black citizens — historically and shamefully disenfranchised for hundreds of years — view the laws as meant to hurt them, regardless of how effective they may or may not be at doing it.