“How Does Electing Minority Legislators Affect Substantive Minority Representation? Evidence from Close Primary Elections in Safe Districts” with Albert Fang, Yale
AMERICAN POLITICS & PUBLIC POLICY WORKSHOP
Abstract: Despite a longstanding literature in American politics assessing the effect of a legislator’s race on the quality of substantive representation she provides that racial group, relatively little work examines whether the link between descriptive and substantive representation is moderated by electoral conditions that constrain elite behavior. Moreover, interpreting existing studies is not straightforward because the implied counterfactual legislator neither exists nor represents a plausible alternative legislator that could be selected. To address these issues, I reframe the research question and ask whether districts that elect a minority candidate, instead of districts that elect a counterfactual non-minority candidate, are represented by legislators who exhibit more pro-minority legislative behavior. I examine this question using a regression discontinuity (RD) design applied to the case of close elections between a Latino candidate and a non-Latino candidate at the state legislative level. Using an original dataset covering 22 U.S. states that combines primary election returns containing new information on candidate ethnicity with a new database of state legislative behavior on Latino-interest issues over a 16-year period, I find suggestive evidence that the election of the marginal Latino legislator (instead of a non-Latino legislator) in safe Democratic districts leads to increased pro-Latino policy bill sponsorship behavior by the legislator elected, but no difference in the volume of anti-Latino policy bills or pro-Latino symbolic bills sponsored and no difference in roll call voting behavior on Latino-interest bills. Implications for the study of descriptive representation are discussed.
Speaker: Albert Fang is a Postdoctoral Associate at Yale University, affiliated with the Center for the Study of American Politics and the Institution for Social and Policy Studies.