Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Diversity in Political Institutions and Congressional Responsiveness to Minority Interests

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Diversity in Political Institutions and Congressional Responsiveness to Minority Interests

Article excerpt

Abstract

Despite claims that diversity benefits the democratic process, critics question whether increased diversity significantly improves government responsiveness and accountability beyond electoral competition and constituency influence. The authors advance a diversity infrastructure theory to explain why and how minority legislators have kept minority interests on the congressional agenda. Using data on congressional hearings held on civil rights and social welfare from 1951 to 2004, the authors find that despite the decline of national attention to civil rights and social welfare issues in general, increased diversity in the House and to a lesser extent in the Senate is responsible for keeping minority interests on the congressional agenda.

Keywords

diversity, minority, representation, Congress, civil rights

Diversity in political institutions provides significant benefits in a representative democracy. Diverse institutions produce better public policies than nondiverse institutions (Page 2007), confer greater legitimacy to public policies and organizations (Scherer and Curry 2010; Tate 2003), enhance deliberative democracy (Mansbridge 1999; Williams 1998; Young 2000), and improve governmental responsiveness to marginalized groups (Bratton and Haynie 1999; Canon 1999; Casellas 2010; Gamble 2007; Grose 2011; Minta 2009; Minta 2011; Swers 2002; Tate 2003; Thomas 1991; Whitby 1997). Despite evidence that diversity adds value to the democratic process, skeptics question whether increased diversity significantly improves responsiveness and accountability over electoral competition and constituency influence in the U.S. Congress (Hero and Tolbert 1995; Swain 1993; Thernstrom 1987). Many theorists contend that the presence of minority legislators alone is not sufficient to confer benefits for representation. Marginalization and small numbers may limit the influence of minority legislators in the public policymaking process (Guinier 1995; Hawkesworth 2003; Phillips 1995; Williams 1998). Thus, the extent to which diversity improves congressional attention to the interests of marginalized groups is still unresolved.

Relying on extant studies to assess the impact of diversity on the political representation of minority interests is problematic for two reasons. First, claims regarding diversity have come largely from research that examines how well individual legislators from the U.S. House of Representatives represent constituents in their districts. These individual-level studies provide a limited picture of the impact of diversity on Congress because the vast majority of racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are not descriptively represented by black, Latino, or Asian American legislators; this is especially true in the U.S. Senate. Consequently, we know very little about whether the presence of a small number of racial or ethnic minority legislators improves congressional attention to the interests of minorities who are not represented by minority legislators. Understanding how Congress collectively represents various constituencies including racial and ethnic minorities remains an important concern for political representation scholars (Weissberg 1978).1

Second, most studies of political representation in the U.S. Senate find that the less diverse Senate is not responsive and is often hostile to the interests of racial and ethnic minorities, primarily because of malapportionment (Griffin 2006; Lee and Oppenheimer 1999). These scholars implicitly assume that greater diversity in the House results in increased responsiveness to minority interests over the Senate. It is surprising that very few scholars have directly tested this proposition, despite evidence suggesting that the Senate is as responsive as the House across a range of issues (Ansolabehere, Synder, and Ting 2003; Mayhew 2009).2 Moreover, even fewer have examined how the changing racial and ethnic diversity of the House of Representatives and Senate over time has contributed to any differences in attention to minority interests by each chamber. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.