From Descriptive to Substantive Representation: Testing Theoretical Mechanisms Empirically

Thursday, July 13, 2017
Gilbert Scott Building - G466 (University of Glasgow)
Maria Sobolewska , University of Manchester
Rosie Campbell , Birkbeck College, University of London, Rosie Campbell
Rebecca McKee , Political Science, University of Manchester
Empirical studies often show a link between substantive and descriptive representation of ethnic minorities. However the mechanism for why these two may be linked is provided almost exclusively by normative arguments. This paper tests two of the proposed causal mechanisms explaining how representatives of minority ethnic origin being able and willing to engage in substantive representation of minorities. The first one is shared experience, which we operationalize as the perception that racial prejudice holds minorities back. The second one is the notion that minority candidates will have a distinct representational ideology- they will feel a greater sense that they have a responsibility to represent minorities. We use the 2015 Representative Audit of Britain survey of Parliamentary Candidates and the 2015 British Election Study online survey of voters. We find two interesting patterns. Firstly we find clear evidence for both the proposed mechanisms linking descriptive and substantive representation: minority candidates not only share minority voters’ perceptions that racial prejudice holds them back, but minority candidates also feel a greater sense of responsibility to represent minorities; although we find some differences by political party. However, we find that in fact all white candidates of all mainstream parties share the perception that racial prejudice holds minorities back, which puts them is disagreement with most of their own party’s voters. This may help explain why the gap in levels of substantive representation from minority and white Parliamentarians in Britain has previously been found to be very small.