Plural Governance: Race, Ethnicity, and Within-District Representation in the United States
- Author(s): Spangler, Liesel
- Advisor(s): Abrajano, Marisa
- et al.
In this dissertation, I explore the consequences of the current racial and ethnic demographic shift that is occurring in the United States by examining exceptionally diverse electoral districts with no racial or ethnic majority group, which I call plurality districts. According to the 2015 American Community Survey estimates, there were eighty-six plurality districts, outnumbering black-majority districts and Latino-majority districts. These districts present new opportunities and challenges for the representation of racial and ethnic groups in the United States. In my dissertation, I ask: how do U.S. House members change their within-district representation strategies and behaviors as their constituencies' compositions transition from those with racial/ethnic majority groups to plurality districts?
To answer this question, I present the overarching theory of racial trust and cultural competence in Chapter 1. Legislators of plurality districts must create inter-racial/ethnic electoral coalitions to win reelection. However, they are presented with the challenge that they do not descriptively represent the majority of their constituents and may struggle to credibly appeal to multiple groups simultaneously. To overcome these challenges, I argue that they should engage in behaviors that demonstrate their knowledge of the group's interests and their ability to represent out-groups effectively.
Chapter 2 explores whether and how legislators altertheir strategies of political communication as their districts transition from majority-type districts to plurality districts. I argue that legislators of plurality districts are able to use their online presence and brand in an effort to communicate responsiveness and cultural competence to build rapport with various racial/ethnic groups within the district. I find that legislators alter the topics and racial/ethnic groups referenced in their social media messages as they transition from serving majority-type districts to plurality districts, albeit these changes are slow.
Chapter 3 examines whether and how legislators alter the racial/ethniccompositions of their staffers as they transition from serving majority-type districts to serving plurality districts. I argue that a legislator is better able to be responsive to their constituency when the racial/ethnic composition of their staff mirrors the district. I find evidence of partisan differences in the way that legislators hire before and after redistricting. I find that Democrats of newly transitioned plurality districts increase the racial/ethnic diversity of their management staffs, while Republicans of newly transitioned plurality districts increase the racial/ethnic diversity of their constituency services staffs.
Chapter 4 analyzes whether and how the types and amounts ofdiscretionary funds are changed as legislators transition from serving majority-type districts to serving plurality districts. I specifically look at contract awards that are flagged as serving various non-white racial/ethnic communities. I argue that these contract awards offer legislators an opportunity to bring back important funding to the district, but also an opportunity to work with various groups within their district during the application process for these awards. I find no evidence to suggest that legislators acquire more or different types of minority-interest funding for their district after they transition to a plurality district compared to when they served a majority-type district.
Chapter 5 concludes the dissertation with a discussion of the importantcontributions made by this dissertation, particularly as the research relates to the political representation and engagement of racially and ethnically historically marginalized communities. This chapter also discusses the unanswered questions that have emerged from this research.