Racial Differences in Information, Expectations, and Accountability


John D. Griffin is assistant professor of political science, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556. Patrick Flavin is a Ph.D. student, Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556.


Citizens contribute to the process of democratic accountability by acquiring information about their elected officials' behavior, comparing this information to their expectations regarding substantive representation, and voting in elections based on the result of this comparison. However, citizens possess varying levels of information about, and different expectations of, Representatives' voting behavior. This raises the possibility that some citizens are more likely to hold their Members of Congress (MCs) accountable than others. We find that there are substantial racial disparities in democratic accountability between whites and African Americans and that these disparities stem from African Americans' relative difficulty acquiring information about their MCs' voting behavior, as well as from this group's unique expectations of their MCs. These racial differences in information and expectations are exacerbated by descriptive representation, but not because descriptively represented African Americans are less informed. Finally, whites' accountability advantage persists when the analysis is limited to each racial group's most salient issue domain.