Explaining the Nomination of Ethnic Minority Candidates: How Party-Level Factors and District-Level Factors InteractBy Laura Sudulich on 16 January 2018
By Ben Farrer (Knox College) and Josh Zingher (Old Dominion University)
This is a summary of the forthcoming artcle on JEPOP
Since 2016, the democratic world has entered an era where change seems to be the only constant. Democratic conventions are overturned freely, and barely has the system recovered from its last shock before the next is being seamlessly queued up. But even in these times of seemingly fundamental turbulence, one long-standing regularity has escaped attention. We wish to not only highlight the continued importance of this under-studied issue, but also to shed new light on it, given recent events.
We refer to a consistent problem that democracies have: representing ethnic minorities. Each country has evolved its own unique legislature, but all these representative sites seem to over-represent whites (white males in particular). Across industrialized democracies, national legislatures are consistently whiter than the populations that they serve, many argue that this lack of descriptive representation has consistently negative effects on people of color (although for a critique of descriptive representation as a solution to broader issues, see episode 7 of the Hella Black Podcast), but even in this era when all options are on the table, there has been little discussion of what factors determine when and where ethnic minority candidates run for office. The 2017 US elections were celebrated as bringing in a uniquely diverse slate of candidates, but we still don’t know what drives the emergence of minority candidates.
We address this question in our forthcoming JEPOP paper: “Explaining the Nomination of Ethnic Minority Candidates: How Party-Level and District-Level Factors Interact”. Where previous academics had focused on party-level factors (i.e., minority candidates are more frequently nominated by center left parties because of these parties’ multicultural ideology and electoral strategies) or district-level factors (i.e., minority candidates emerge in heavily minority electoral districts), we argue that descriptive representation emerges as an interaction of these two forces.
Specifically, we introduce a novel and generalizable model for how ethnic minority candidates get nominated. We argue that ethnic minority population percentage in a district is a key factor, because it makes recruitment easier, and the electoral payoff greater. However, most ethnic minority voters are center-left partisans and so will be more responsive to recruitment and to electoral appeals if they come from center-left parties—center-left parties have more of an incentive to pay attention to district demographics.
Our hypothesis, then, is that ethnic minority nominees are most common when two conditions are met: first, the party doing the nominating is a center-left party, and second, the district where the nominating occurs is a heavily ethnic minority district. We include data from Australia, the UK, and the US, to test our hypothesis. We find evidence – particularly from the US and UK – that ethnic minority nominees are indeed most common under these conditions.
This helps us understand how, cross-nationally, descriptive representation of ethnic minorities occurs. The figure below shows that in the UK and US center left parties become more likely to nominate minority candidates (compared to center right parties) as the minority population in a district increases. That is, the lines show the increasing difference (the marginal effect) between center-left and center-right parties as districts have a greater non-white percentage. At higher levels of this percentage, center-left parties are much more likely to nominate an ethnic minority candidate, but at lower levels, they are barely more likely. This show that we need to study party-level and district-level factors together.
Our paper addresses an important question about democratic representation: where has the nomination of ethnic minorities occurred? On the national level, under-representation is still rampant. But under some conditions, ethnic minority candidates do get nominated, and win seats. Our paper shows that we cannot simply study the districts where this happens, nor the parties where it is more common. It is how party-level factors and district-level factors interact that helps explain this phenomenon.
Institutional reforms should bear this in mind: increasing the non-white percentage in a district does not linearly increase the probability of descriptive representation. Instead, the effects of demographic changes (or gerrymandering/majority-minority district lines) will be filtered through the spinning kaleidoscope of national party competition.