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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Messaging Matters: How Information about Underrepresentation Affects the Political Participation of Racial and Ethnic Groups in California


Can racial and ethnic minorities be mobilized to participate in politics at greater rates?  We theorize that mobilization messages providing information about a group’s underrepresentation in government may increase participation among racial/ethnic minorities.  However, responsiveness to such messages should vary depending on individuals’ prior awareness of their group’s underrepresentation. Using a two-wave panel survey that randomly assigned different get out the vote messages, we find that messages highlighting a racial/ethnic group’s underrepresentation in government do not increase Latinos’, Blacks’, or Asians’ likelihood of voting. We also find that such messages can decrease other forms of political participation among Asians and Latinos who were previously unaware of their group’s underrepresentation. These findings indicate that information about underrepresentation can actually demobilize certain segments of the electorate. Thus, practical efforts to boost participation among underrepresented groups should either communicate information about underrepresentation in other ways or provide a different type of message altogether.

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