The persistence of white ethnicity in New England politics

James G. Gimpel, Wendy K. Tam Cho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There was a consensus among earlier students of New England politics that the political influence of European ancestry was fading by the latter half of the 20th century. We examine this proposition in recent times by exploring the role of ethnic ancestry in explaining the political divide in the region's presidential voting in over 1500 New England towns. Contrary to earlier predictions, ethnic origin does retain some explanatory power in models of recent voting behavior, and ethnic cleavages have not been entirely replaced by economic divisions in the electorate. Although the settlement patterns of the more established and numerous nationality groups (i.e. Irish and Italians) are less associated with partisanship than they were 50 years ago, the political salience of white ethnicity persists, suggesting that ethnic groups do not simply dealign or politically "assimilate" over time. Some groups maintain a strong identity in spite of upward mobility because movement from city to suburbs is selected not just on housing, income or school characteristics, as is usually the case, but on ethnicity too. Towns with significant concentrations of specific European ancestry groups lean Republican, even after we have accounted for the presence of other sources of political leaning and past voting tendencies, while Democratic attachments are undeniably strong in towns where the newer immigrant groups have settled. The "new ethnicity" (i.e. racial minorities) and the "old ethnicity" (i.e. white ethnics) clearly carry distinct political implications for this region's presidential politics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)987-1008
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Geography
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2004


  • Irish Americans
  • Italian Americans
  • New England politics
  • Presidential elections
  • Racial politics
  • Voting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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