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Substantive Symbols: The Attitudinal Dimension of Black Political Incorporation in Local Government


Melissa J. Marschall is associate professor of political science, Rice University, P.O. Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251-1892 ( Anirudh V. S. Ruhil is senior research associate, Voinovich Center for Leadership and Public Affairs, Ohio University, Building 21, The Ridges, Athens, OH 45701-2979 (


Traditional studies of minority incorporation focus on the redistribution of public resources that purportedly follows black gains in representation. The present study departs from this approach by focusing on the attitudinal effects of black leadership. Two research questions guide this study: To what extent do blacks' assessments of neighborhood services and conditions stem from black representation in local executive and legislative offices? Are these attitudinal effects rooted in policy and service delivery outcomes? Employing survey data from 3,000 blacks embedded in 52 cities and 53 school districts, this study reveals that blacks report higher levels of satisfaction with their neighborhood conditions, police services, and public schools when represented by blacks in city hall and on school boards and that these evaluations are most positive when improvements in local services are conspicuous. Overall, these findings extend conventional conceptualizations of substantive benefits and challenge more pessimistic accounts regarding the effects of black representation in local politics.