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Essays on Co-Racial Campaign Contributions


Much of the phenomena we investigate in political science is driven by a normative prescription of equality (Dahl, 2006). As a result, many of the questions pursued in political science relate to explaining why we see inequality and seek to identify the factors that explain it. The notion that every individual is equal and deserves to have his or her preferences accounted for is central to how many think about American politics. The extent to which any group of political voices are unrepresentative of the general public represents a participatory distortion and is a direct challenge to our democratic norms (Verba, Schlozman, and Brady, 1995; Schlozman, Verba, and Brady, 2012). Left unchecked, these distortions have the potential to lead to unequal political outcomes. Despite these concerns, the vast majority of scholarly work that seeks to explain participatory distortion, particularly by racial and ethnic groups, have largely focused on a single act of political participation, voting. Rather than focusing our attention on the most egalitarian method of political participation, I argue that we should instead consider the act of participation where we find the most inequality and coincidentally the most potential for influence-campaign contributions. The goal of my dissertation project is to contribute to the limited understanding of how ethnoracial identity informs political participation and representation in the United States by focusing on the relationship of racial and ethnic identity and campaign contribution behavior. Our theoretical expectations of campaign contributors have largely focused on explaining the behavior of donors in the context of conventional theories of political participation and behavior. These theories emphasize the role that partisanship and ideology play in the strategic decisions that donors make. However, much of this literature fails to consider one's race or ethnicity may influence these decisions despite the fact that in other areas of scholarship, the relationship between race or ethnicity and behavior is well known. The central question which drives the focus of this dissertation is: Are donors belonging to marginalized groups different from those who do not? I answer this question by using data from both public opinion surveys and large-N administrative contribution records. I apply a novel method of estimating race/ethnicity to look at donor contribution patterns in the House of Representatives from 1980 to 2014 focusing on Asian American and Latino donors, two of the fastest growing minority groups in the United States. I find that Asian Americans and Latinos do not fit conventional expectations for donor behavior. Rather than prioritizing characteristics such as ideology or incumbency status, donors belonging to these groups appear to hold persistent preferences for candidates with whom they share a racial or ethnic background. I argue that in order to fully understand the behavior of Asian American and Latino donors we must look to models of political behavior that incorporate the potential role that race and ethnicity can play.

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