Analyzing the Evidence Exercises

The path to racial equality in the United States has been long and uneven, with some data suggesting significant progress while other data indicates major unresolved obstacles to achieving a color-blind society. One area in which this discrepancy can be observed is racial representation. The figure below shows the number of African Americans elected to public office from 1970 to 2002.

African Americans Elected to Office

1. What is the overall trend in the number of African Americans elected to office over time?
2. More specifically, what is the rate of change in the absolute number of African Americans elected to office between 1970 and 2002?
One of the reasons why the presence of women and minorities in elected office is important is because it is linked to descriptive representation – whether elected officials “look like” the constituents they serve. Another type of representation is substantive, and involves the question of whether elected officials work to further the legislative policy interests of their constituents. Scholars have found that descriptive representation has a positive effect on the relationship between constituents and elected officials.i

A major consideration in modern congressional redistricting is ensuring racial representation by drawing districts that are made up of a majority of racial/ethnic minorities. Yet one consequence of this strategy may be a dilution of the aggregate influence of minorities in the legislature.ii One state that has been embroiled in redistricting controversy in recent years is Texas, which has a number of majority-minority congressional districts. Open this figure from a recent survey of Texas voters, which shows constituents’ satisfaction with their member of Congress.iii
3. Do citizens’ assessments of their representatives vary by race? If so, why might this be the case?
Congressional redistricting in Texas has been characterized by a great deal of partisanship, with recent rounds of line drawing controlled by the Republican majority in state government. While the U.S. Constitution protects the interests of racial minorities in the redistricting process, the Supreme Court has so far avoided protecting partisan and ideological minorities — which, in Texas, means Democrats and liberals.
4. How do you think the disparity in constitutional status between race and partisanship/ideology affects the representational experience of Texas voters?
5. Having observed the representational experience by race in the preceding figure, now look at this figure, which shows satisfaction among whites of varying political ideology. What pattern do you observe?
6. In what way does redistricting potentially cause this relationship?

i Gay, Claudine. 2002. “Spirals of Trust? The Effect of Descriptive Representation on the Relationship between Citizens and Their Government.” American Journal of Political Science 46: 717-732. 

ii Lublin, David. 1999. The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests in Congress. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

iii This and subsequent data are from Adam Myers, “The Polling Center: Race, Ideology, and Redistricting,” The Texas Tribune, 06/21/2011, (accessed 2/22/12). 

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