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The use of experiments to study the behavior of political elites in institutions has a long history and is once again becoming an active field of research. I review that history, noting that government officials within political institutions frequently use random assignment to test for policy effects and to encourage compliance. Scholars of political institutions have generally been slower than practitioners to embrace the use of experiments, though there has been remarkable growth in experimentation by scholars to study political elites. I summarize the domains in which scholars have most commonly used experiments, commenting on how researchers have seized opportunities to leverage random assignment. I highlight design challenges including limited sample sizes, answering theoretically-driven questions while partnering with public officials or others, and the difficulty of conducting replications. I then implore scholars to be bold in using experiments to study political institutions while also being mindful of ethical considerations.
Can ideological inconsistency in legislators’ voting records be explained by uncertainty about constituent preferences? Do legislators ‘hedge their bets’ ideologically when faced with constituency uncertainty? This article presents an uncertainty-based theory of ideological hedging. Legislators faced with uncertainty about their constituent preferences have an incentive to present ideologically inconsistent roll-call records. Legislators experiment with a variety of roll-call positions in order to learn the preferences of their constituents. An examination of US senators during 1961–2004 shows that uncertainty due to black enfranchisement and mobilization led to higher ideological inconsistency in legislative voting records. Ideologically inconsistent behaviour by elected officials can be characterized as best responses to a changing and uncertain environment. These results have implications for representation and the stability of democracy.
The civil rights issue space in Chapter 3 was estimated using Bayesian Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods (see Clinton, Jackman, and Rivers 2004; Martin and Quinn 2002). I assume there is a unidimensional civil rights policy space over the time period from 1969 to 2004 (the 91st to 108th Congresses). I then estimate House members' ideal points on this civil rights issue space.
The estimation is based on the civil rights votes of House members during these Congresses. These civil rights ideal point estimates – similar to ideological positions – are comparable across time periods and vary over time for legislators who serve over multiple Congresses. I estimate all legislators' positions on a scale on which negative indicates more liberal positions on civil rights and positive numbers indicate more conservative positions on civil rights. Enelow and Hinich (1984) posit that a roll-call vote is a choice between a position along a (unidimensional, in this instance) policy space consistent with a “yea” vote (ϕj) in favor of the proposal and that with a “nay” vote (γj) against it. The unidimensional civil rights policy space, X, a subset of the real line, is a continuum of policies ranging from extremely pro-civil rights on the left (negative values) to extremely anti-civil rights on the right (positive values). Ideological predilections along the civil rights space may be induced by preferences and other various factors, but that is beyond the scope of this research.
“What really happened during the 1990s redistricting round[?] … [B]lack interests suffered as a result of this [racial redistricting maximization] …”
–David I. Lublin and D. Stephen Voss (2003)
“If you go from a safe [black majority congressional] seat [to a black influence district], that is backsliding.”
–Justice John Paul Stevens, during questioning in Georgia v. Ashcroft, 2003 (from Cook 2003).
“Racial redistricting results in the election of some liberal representatives, thereby shifting the House median to the left.”
–Kenneth W. Shotts (2003a, 226)
“I don't want to … [increase my district's black population]. I believe it should be unconstitutional, if it's not, to stack black people in political ghettos.”
–Rep. Jim Clyburn, black Democrat from South Carolina's sixth district (from Associated Press 2001)
Do majority-minority districting plans cause more liberal or more conservative civil rights policy outcomes in the aggregate U.S. House? Or is it possible that majority-minority districting plans have little to no impact on civil rights outcomes in the aggregate U.S. House? Whereas substantial debates have occurred over these questions in the fields of history, political science, law, and on the Supreme Court, there has always been an assumption that these districting plans have either benefited or harmed African Americans.
In 1992, Sanford Bishop (D-GA) made history. He became the first African-American congressman to represent a South Georgia congressional district. Georgia had sent African Americans to Congress before, but these elections occurred in districts in the Atlanta area. Bishop had achieved a more difficult victory: winning office in a rural district that is demographically more like Alabama than Atlanta. His 1992 election was a result of the drawing of a congressional district that was black-majority.
In 1996 and more than a decade before Barack Obama was elected president, Sanford Bishop (D-GA) made history yet again. He became the first African-American legislator elected to the U.S. Congress in Georgia in a predominately rural district in which whites were a majority. A coalition of white and African-American voters reelected Bishop to the U.S. House in a South Georgia district that includes former President Jimmy Carter's home town of Plains. In the same year, African-American Democrat Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) also garnered reelection in a white-majority district centered in suburban Atlanta. In 1995, the Supreme Court had ruled in Miller v. Johnson that Bishop's and McKinney's districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, causing them to run in newly created white-majority districts. The same pattern was evident across a number of states in the U.S. South, as black legislators forced to run in court-ordered white-majority districts surprisingly won reelection by building a biracial coalition of white and black voters.
The symbolic importance of Barack Obama's election is without question. But beyond symbolism, does the election of African-American politicians matter? Grose argues that it does and presents a unified theory of representation. Electing African-American legislators yields more federal dollars and congressional attention directed toward African-American voters. However, race and affirmative action gerrymandering have no impact on public policy passed in Congress. Grose is the first to examine a natural experiment and exceptional moment in history in which black legislators – especially in the U.S. South – represented districts with a majority of white constituents. This is the first systematic examination of the effect of a legislator's race above and beyond the effect of constituency racial characteristics. Grose offers policy prescriptions, including the suggestion that voting rights advocates, the courts, and redistricters draw 'black decisive districts', electorally competitive districts that are likely to elect African Americans.
The analyses in Chapter 6 of project allocations to predominately black counties and to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are based on four regression models. The figures displayed and discussed in Chapter 6 are predicted values based on varying the key independent variables of interest while holding the other “control” variables at their means. This appendix presents the details of these four statistical models in more depth than in Chapter 6. I examine four regression models, with four different dependent variables, all measuring either the number or dollar amounts allocated to either predominately black counties or HBCUs. The data used in Chapter 6 for the dependent variables are from the Federal Awards Assistance Data System (FAADS), which is discussed in detail in Stein and Bickers (1995). Other details regarding the unit of analysis were given in the text of the chapter.
The FAADS data are available from the U.S. census bureau as a list of every project allocated with associated geographic information. For Chapter 6's analyses of project allocations to predominately black counties and to HBCUs, I excluded all types of federal assistance other than project grants – formula-based grants, loans, contingent financial aid, and so on were not included. Project grants, and not these other forms of assistance, are the most likely to be particularistic to constituencies.
“The constituency service piece [of representation] is the most critical.”
This comment is from a district staffer for a member of Congress who told me that a strong constituency service operation was the key to her legislator getting reelected. I asked her for some examples of constituency service that she, the staff, or the representative she worked for might engage in, and she detailed the “usual suspects”: helping someone track down an errant social security check, assisting a constituent in procuring veteran's benefits, and the like. She also regaled me with some of the more exotic assistance her office has engaged in on behalf of the legislator's constituents over the years: hiring a private investigator to locate a constituent's stolen Boston Terrier; sending in a Medivac helicopter to a sick constituent honeymooning in Bermuda; and intervening on behalf of an eighteen-year-old constituent who got into some legal trouble in Jamaica. All in a day's work for a staffer who works hard answering all kinds of requests from constituents.
Later revealed in my conversation with her was that most of these stories she told of constituency service that went above and beyond the call of duty were for white constituents. The legislator she worked for was interested in assisting all constituents, regardless of race, in any way possible. However, the white constituents tended to contact the legislator as he was also white, whereas many black constituents contacted a nearby black member of Congress for assistance.
“North Carolina should have 7 women, 3.5 African-Americans in the House based on the numbers. All are taxpayers, but you don't get the services. You get tired of it.”
–Tawana Wilson-Allen, staffer to Representative Mel Watt, also quoted at the opening of Chapter 1, arguing why her state needs descriptive representation in Congress.
Race matters in Congress. The descriptive representation of African Americans in Congress leads to substantive legislative outcomes favoring black constituents. The outcomes in which descriptive representation matters, though, are not those that have typically been examined by scholars of African-American legislative representation. Based on this research, a number of policy implications and other questions now present themselves. In the remainder of this book, I will examine a few of these. First, I will detail how this research fits in specifically with the major works in the research area of minority congressional representation detailed in both Chapters 1 and 2, focusing particularly on Carol Swain (1995), David Canon (1999), Katherine Tate (2003), and Kenny Whitby (1997) as they have also examined congressional behavior other than roll-call voting. Second, I will consider the aggregate implications of these findings, offering possible advice for the “best” districting arrangement for maximizing the substantive representation of black constituents. These aggregate implications include my recommendation to the courts and policy makers to draw black-decisive districts. Black-decisive districts are (1) districts that are electorally competitive; (2) districts in which black voters are likely to be decisive in electing the winner; and (3) districts that are likely to elect African-American legislators.
–An African-American staffer in Congressman Earl Hilliard's office, explaining why she thinks it is important to have African-American staff in congressional district offices.
Is there a link between descriptive representation at the staff level and substantive representation at the congressional district level? What proportion of district staff are African American, white, or from other racial/ethnic backgrounds? Are these staff in the district working to reach black constituents? This chapter picks up where Chapter 4 left off, continuing to examine constituency service – a substantive, tangible good – delivered to African Americans. In this chapter, I argue that descriptive representation (the election of African-American legislators) is a key predictor of the hiring of black staff in congressional districts. Further, black staff are more likely than white staff to self-identify as being able to “relate” to African-American constituents.
Whereas members of Congress personally engage in constituency service, most of the day-to-day work dealing with casework and other services falls to the congressional staff, and most often to the congressional staff in the district. When a constituent requests assistance from their representative, typically the request goes through a staff member in one of the district offices. Legislative observers have long noted the importance of staff in assisting the representational activities of members of Congress, particularly constituency service activities.
In November 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama surprised the nation and the world by becoming the first African-American president of the United States. In a country where nearly all major elected officials are white, Obama had pulled off what seemed impossible to many. Not only had no African American ever won the presidency, in a country whose voting majority is white, but very few African Americans had ever been elected to any federal office in constituencies where black voters did not constitute a majority. Prior to the 2008 elections, for instance, only three African Americans had ever been elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction (one of whom was Obama, representing Illinois from 2004 to 2008). Dianne Pinderhughes (2009, 4), reflecting on Obama's historic electoral triumph, noted that a “number of the most high achieving, successful African Americans, whether in academic, literary or political life thought it improbable that there would ever be a president of African American ancestry.”
In the U.S. House of Representatives, cracks in the racial glass ceiling had become apparent a decade before Obama won the presidency. Until the mid-1990s, nearly all African Americans elected to the U.S. House won election from districts without white majorities. However, beginning in 1996, a few black legislators – in southern states that had only decades earlier employed Jim Crow laws to disfranchise African Americans – won election to Congress in districts in which whites were a majority.
In Chapters 4 and 5, the dependent variable is constituency service allocations to African-American constituents. Most of the analyses in Chapters 4 and 5 come from a qualitative sample of districts. I interviewed twenty-seven district staff members of legislators in seventeen districts during the 106th and 107th Congresses (visiting twenty-seven total district offices). Interviews in three of these districts were conducted jointly with political scientists Maurice Mangum and Christopher Martin. Through interviews and participant observation during these visits, I have gathered data and qualitative evidence on these district offices and these seventeen members of Congress. See Table 4.1 in Chapter 4 for a list of members whose district offices I visited, broken down by relevant independent variables (this qualitative sample was selected based on variation in the independent variables; see King, Keohane, and Verba 1994). The selection of these districts was not random, but was done scientifically in order to vary the independent variables of interest. More on this subject is detailed later. I rely on this field research to illuminate the results throughout the book as well.
Methodological issues are not just the realm of quantitative research. Whereas issues plaguing quantitative research are different from those in qualitative small-n research, the issues in qualitative research are often stickier and deal with more fundamental questions of research design. Through small sample studies, we can learn much more about the context of representation in the district.
“Senator, do you think in our Congress we'll ever be able to get rid of the pork situation?”
–Unidentified Mississippi citizen, questioning Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) at Square Books in Oxford, MS, Oct. 14, 2004
“Well, first of all, you have to define ‘What is pork?’ I have quite often defined it as federal spending north of Memphis. [laughter from audience] … Do you know of any pork I brought to Mississippi? The funds I've gotten for Oxford, the funds I've gotten for DeSoto County, the highway money? Is that pork? The 100 million for the Greenville bridge? That, why that's not pork, is it? And of course, the story of how that happened was Richard Shelby from Alabama was chairman of the transportation appropriations subcommittee and he came over and said, Trent – I was majority leader then and you know I got to call up bills or not – and he said, you know, we've got about 300 million left here in our allocation and I was wondering what you thought we ought to do with it. I said, well let's be fair. You take a hundred, I'll take a hundred, and we'll let the rest of the country have the remaining hundred. And it seemed fair and that's what we did. [Laughter from audience].”