Descriptive Representation, Political Efficacy, and African Americans in the 2008 Presidential Election



Political efficacy is an important psychological orientation that has been used extensively by scholars to help explain voting and other forms of participation. However, very few scholars have sought to treat political efficacy as a dependent variable. In this research note, we look at the linkage between descriptive representation and political efficacy. Drawing from existing literature, we argue that an increase in descriptive representation positively affects levels of political efficacy. We examine support for this argument by looking at whether levels of efficacy increased among African Americans after the election of Barack Obama using data from the 2008–2009 American National Election Studies (ANES) panel study. We find that the effects of descriptive representation on efficacy varied depending on one's partisanship. Black Republicans, Independents, and weak Democrats experienced an increase in efficacy. However, Black Democrats and White Democrats who strongly identify with the party experienced a similar boost in efficacy, which suggests that partisanship can override the effects of having a descriptive representative.