We show that contemporary differences in political attitudes across counties in
the American South trace their origins to slavery’s prevalence more than 150 years
ago. Whites who currently live in Southern counties that had high shares of slaves
in 1860 are more likely to identify as a Republican, oppose affirmative action
policies, and express racial resentment and colder feelings toward blacks. These
results cannot be explained by existing theories, including the theory of racial
threat. To explain these results, we offer evidence for a new theory involving the
historical persistence of racial attitudes. We argue that, following the Civil War,
Southern whites faced political and economic incentives to reinforce racist norms
and institutions. This produced racially conservative political attitudes, which in
turn have been passed down locally across generations. Our results challenge the
interpretation of a vast literature on racial attitudes in the American South.
Acharya, Avidit, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen. "The Political Legacy of American Slavery." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP14-057, December 2014.