“How Citizens Evaluate Trade-offs between Descriptive and Partisan Representation,” Albert Fang, Yale
AMERICAN POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY WORKSHOP
An active debate in racial politics asks whether racial liberals and minorities would trade off descriptive representation for partisan representation when in conflict. A dominant line of research argues that descriptive representation is paramount given its symbolic importance. Another burgeoning line of research instead argues that partisanship matters more in contemporary American politics. I evaluate these competing arguments in the context of racial redistricting, specifically when creating Democratic majority-minority districts has the “perverse effect” of creating Republican districts and gerrymanders, which presents a trade-off between descriptive and partisan representation. Analyzing data from a survey experiment, I find that among those facing a trade-off, contra expectations in the literature, preferences for descriptive representation do not strictly dominate partisan preferences. I find no differences in trade-off evaluations between minorities and whites after controlling for subjects’ baseline preferences. Most importantly, I find strong evidence that among those facing this trade-off, preferences for Democratic legislative control dominate preferences for marginal increases in descriptive representation. These findings corroborate arguments that partisan preferences are central to racial representation in modern-day American politics, and have policy implications for political and legal theories of how to advance racial representation in a racially polarized party system.
Albert Fang is a Postdoctoral Associate affiliated with the Center for the Study of American Politics and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies at Yale University. He studies racial and ethnic politics, political behavior, representation, and public policy. His current work examines how people form preferences over politically costly strategies to advance racial representation, how the politics of descriptive representation varies across electoral and intergroup contexts, and the conditions under which state and non-state interventions to improve intergroup relations are effective. In addition, he conducts experimental research in political behavior, political psychology, and public opinion.