Race and New Southern Politics (2021-2022)

Drawing on the research of Donald Matthews and James Prothro, whose work assessed the political landscape and racial attitudes of the American South in the mid-twentieth century, this team set out to study the role of race in the region today, including the political effects of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. In their poster, they present three findings relating specifically to criminal justice and politics in the United States.

In order to examine the political landscape and racial attitudes of the contemporary South, the team collected and analyzed data aimed at uncovering the answers to three distinct questions:

  1. What effects did BLM protests have on prosecutorial elections?
  2. Is prison construction driven by surplus labor and surplus land?
  3. Did the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion reduce prison and jail admissions

First, comparing BLM protest activity data between 2014 and 2016 and prosecutorial elections data for one full cycle (2013 through 2017), they found that Democrat prosecutorial primary elections became more competitive and contested following BLM protests in a given prosecutorial district, while Republican prosecutorial primaries became less so. BLM protests were also associated with better Democrat district attorney and worse Republican district attorney performance in general elections. They interpret these findings to suggest that BLM protests do affect prosecutorial elections by moving district attorney elections generally to the left, but may also make Republicans more unified in support of candidates.

Second, they found evidence that in the southern United States, rural counties with rising poverty rates are most likely to open new prisons. Because prisons can employ people and use otherwise surplus, non-profitable land, the team hypothesized that poor and rural counties would have incentive to do so. Using data from 1990-2010, they found that rural Southern counties were indeed more likely to open prisons, and those with growing poverty rates were even more so.

Finally, the team showed that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) 2014 Medicaid expansion did not reduce prison or jail admissions within expansion states. While these results differed from their hypothesis, they believe it is likely that the ACA expansion would more likely impact recidivism rates rather than general incarceration due to the health issues exacerbated by time in prisons. Another possibility is that the process for accessing Medicaid may have barriers greater than income that prevent high-risk individuals from accessing it, including technological issues and lacking proof of identity.

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.


Fall 2021 – Spring 2022

Team Outputs

Race and Justice in the Contemporary South (2022 Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase)

How Criminal Justice Shapes Politics and Policy (poster by Dr. John Aldrich, Dr. Candis Watts-Smith, Arvind Krishnamurthy, Marianna Barrett, Wyatt Bui, Kaya Caouki, Rohan Gupta, David Gust, Annie Han, Ben Keschner, Satya Khurana, Amiya Mehrotra, Mal Narula, Julia Nasco, Alisha Nayak, Emma Shokeir, Nellie Sun, Hanna Tawasha, presented at Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Showcase, Duke University, April 13, 2022)

This Team in the News

Duke Names Second Class of Nakayama Scholars

How Race and Gender Are Shaping Politics

Making the Most of Duke, Summer 2021


Image: The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have, by Thomas Cizauskas, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.

Team Leaders

  • John Aldrich, Arts & Sciences-Political Science
  • Ashley Jardina, Arts & Sciences-Political Science
  • Arvind Krishnamurthy, Arts and Sciences–Political Science–Ph.D. Student
  • Candis Smith, Arts & Sciences-Political Science

/graduate Team Members

  • Jared Clemons, Political Science-PHD
  • Edgar Cook II, Political Science-PHD
  • Jasmine Smith, Political Science-PHD
  • Leann Mclaren, Political Science-AM, Political Science-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Satya Khurana, Political Science (AB)
  • Yu Sun, Political Science (AB)
  • Emma Shokeir, Political Science (AB)
  • Alisha Nayak, Computer Science (BS)
  • Julia Nasco, Political Science (AB)
  • Malini Narula, Linguistics (AB)
  • Amiya Mehrotra, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Catherine McMillan, History (AB)
  • Marianna Barrett, Political Science (AB)
  • Benjamin Keschner, Political Science (AB)
  • Ye Han, Economics (BS)
  • David Gust, Economics (BS)
  • Rohan Gupta, Economics (BS)
  • Kaya Caouki, Visual and Media Studies (AB)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Michael Greenberger, UNC-Chapel Hill–Political Science–Ph.D. Student
  • Kyle Endres, University of Northern Iowa