Academic journal article Stanford Law Review

Do Americans Prefer Coethnic Representation? the Impact of Race on House Incumbent Evaluations

Academic journal article Stanford Law Review

Do Americans Prefer Coethnic Representation? the Impact of Race on House Incumbent Evaluations

Article excerpt

Table of Contents  Introduction  I.   Race and Representation       A. Conceptual Foundations      B. Prior Empirical Research  II.  Methodology and Data  III. Results       A. Coethnicity and Evaluations of Representatives      B. Effects of Race and Party      C. Accounting for Racial Preferences of White         Democrats: A Multivariate Analysis  IV.  Discussion  Conclusion 


Social groups, such as races and religions, are undeniably important in the election of representatives in a democracy. Group identities can help solve collective action problems, such as voting, (1) and group politics shape the distribution of and responses to public goods provision and other public policies. (2) Furthermore, group identities are wrapped in symbols that can have particularly powerful appeal to individuals of that group or can alienate individuals from a competing or hostile group. (3) In U.S. politics, racial and ethnic identity creates one of the most enduring political and social groupings. (4) An extensive and multifaceted literature examines how race influences our understanding of political choices and voting, with scholars repeatedly finding substantial racial and ethnic differences in voters' political beliefs and preferences. (5) More controversial, however, is whether those differences translate into a preference for coethnic representation--that is, whether people prefer representatives who are the same ethnic background as they are, and whether that preference is inherently racial or reflects some other factor, such as party, that is correlated with race or ethnicity.

The conjecture that people prefer coethnic representation has driven legislation and litigation concerning voting rights for over half a century in the United States. The theory behind the Voting Rights Act (VRA) (6) and litigation on behalf of minority voters posits that black voters and Hispanic voters want representation by people of the same race or ethnicity as themselves. (7) Under such a conjecture, minorities' preferences for their "own" candidates mean that they have distinctive preferences or interests, and when combined with whites' preference for whites under a plurality system, minority voters would be unable to elect their preferred candidates without intentionally constructing districts around minority interests. (8) As a result, one of the most striking effects of the VRA has been the creation of a substantial number of congressional districts in which African Americans and Hispanics win seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and in state legislatures. (9) Such districts have been required in areas where (1) there is highly polarized voting along racial lines and (2) there are sufficient numbers of blacks and Hispanics to create districts where these groups can elect candidates they prefer. (10) Advocates and scholars argue that it is necessary to create majority or near majority-minority districts in order to ensure minorities have an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates or candidates of their own race, regardless of minority support for white candidates or the intentions of districtors. (11)

These majority-minority districts offer an important research opportunity. The significant number of minority representatives in Congress makes it possible to measure the degree of satisfaction that whites, blacks, and Hispanics express with representatives of their own race and of other races. After the 2010 elections, there were 68 black or Hispanic members of Congress and 359 white members of Congress. (12) How do blacks or Hispanics living in districts represented by whites feel about their members of Congress? How do whites living in districts represented by blacks or Hispanics feel about their members of Congress?

This Article examines two distinct, but often conflated, questions. First, to what extent does a representative's race or ethnicity affect how citizens evaluate that representative and whether citizens support that representative? …

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