Theses Doctoral

Essays in Minority Politics and Representation in the U.S.

Rivera Burgos, Viviana

This dissertation examines the substantive representation of ethnoracial minorities at the national level, the inter-minority dynamics of descriptive representation at the state level, and the effects of ethnoracial cues on White public opinion regarding policies that disproportionately affect minorities. Taken together, the three chapters offer evidence to support the claim that race not only shapes mass opinion, but also elites' responses to it.

The expectation in a representative democracy is that the preferences of the public should influence the voting behavior of elected officials in Congress. Most scholars agree that this is indeed the case, but they have recently begun to ask whose opinions are most influential. Members of Congress seem to disproportionately represent the interests of copartisans and affluent Americans. The literature speaks less to the nature of the relationship between the political preferences of ethnoracial minorities and the voting behavior of members of Congress. Is there also a racial disparity in representation, even after accounting for partisanship and income? Are White Americans better represented in government decisions than are African Americans and Latinos? Chapter 1 explores the relationship between congressional district-level public opinion on proposed bills (estimated using multilevel regression and poststratification), broken down by racial, partisan, and income group, and the roll call votes of House members on those same bills. I find strong evidence of overresponsiveness by members of Congress to copartisan and high-income constituents, and some evidence of underresponsiveness to Blacks. In some cases, minorities' preferences are underrepresented even by representatives of their own parties, on race-targeted policies, and in majority-minority districts.

Chapter 2 examines how legislators respond to coethnic and cominority constituents. I conduct an audit study of all state legislators to explore how they respond to constituents of different ethnoracial groups, and to assess whether Black and Latino state legislators in particular are as responsive to cominority constituents (i.e., non-White individuals from a different ethnic minority group) as they are to coethnics (i.e., individuals from the legislator's own ethnic group). Blacks and Latinos currently make up about one-third of the overall U.S. population, and an even larger share of some state populations. In light of this growing diversification of the American electorate, elected officials have incentives to appeal to a broad racial constituency. I conduct an experiment in which state legislators are randomly assigned to receive an email from a coethnic, cominority, or non-coethnic constituent. My findings suggest that Latino constituents are consistently disadvantaged. White and Republican legislators respond to Latino constituents the least, and Black legislators do not show any cominority solidarity toward them. Latino legislators, on the other hand, do exhibit cominority solidarity toward Black constituents by favoring them over White (non-coethnic) constituents. These results have important implications for the prospect of "black-brown" coalitions and for the descriptive representation of ethnoracial minorities.

Finally, understanding the factors that shape White Americans' preferences over policies that disproportionately affect racial and linguistic minorities is increasingly important in a diversifying society. Chapter 3 focuses on the effects of racialized stereotypes on the formation of White public opinion regarding Hurricane Maria relief in Puerto Rico. Due to the ongoing fiscal crisis and the damage caused by the hurricane in 2017, the case of Puerto Rico has figured prominently in American media coverage as of late, but we know little about how the attitudes that shape U.S. policy toward Puerto Rico are formed. I conduct a nationally representative survey experiment in which I have two actors---roughly identical in all features except skin complexion---portray hurricane victims and give general information about the damage Maria caused. By varying the skin tone (light or dark) and language (Spanish or English) in the videos, I am able to assess the ways in which racial and linguistic markers shape Americans' preferences about a putatively race-neutral policy (disaster relief). I find that the Spanish language treatment decreases respondents' support for Puerto Rico, but not by much. The effects of race, on the other hand, are contingent on respondents' partisanship, race, and prior knowledge about Puerto Ricans' American citizenship.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Shapiro, Robert Yale
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 14, 2020