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The Effect of Black Descriptive Representation on Black Electoral Turnout in the 2004 Elections


  • *Direct correspondence to Kenny J. Whitby, Professor, Department of Political Science, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 〈〉. The data are available on request from the author. The author is grateful to Christian Grose, Roumen Vesselinov, anonymous reviews, and the editor of SSQ for helpful comments and suggestions. The author also thanks Alex Alderman-White for data collection.


Objective. The principal objective in this study is to examine the effects of African-American descriptive representation on African-American voter turnout levels. As it stands, the extant literature on minority electoral empowerment has produced conflicting reports.

Methods. Unlike previous investigations, this study employs official voter turnout data from the States of Louisiana and South Carolina to test the theoretical assertion that black descriptive representation has a politicizing effect on the black potential electorate. The voting records of the 2004 general elections are examined using ordinary least squares regression.

Results. The findings show that descriptive representation does matter, that is, there is a positive association between African-American officeholders and African-American turnout levels. Moreover, this study demonstrates that African-American turnout levels are linked to changes in African-American descriptive representation across time.

Conclusions. The benefits of African-American descriptive representation extend beyond the realm of public policy and can be found in the electoral process where the presence of African-American officeholders positively affects the politicalization of the black potential electorate.