Minority Underrepresentation in U.S. Cities
This paper investigates the patterns of Minority representation and voter registration in U.S. municipal governments. For the period 1981-2020, we report substantial levels of strategic underrepresentation of African American, Asian, and Latino voters in U.S. local politics. Disproportionality in the representation and in voter registration rates of Minority groups are widespread, but stronger when racial or ethnic minorities are electorally pivotal. Underrepresentation is determined by the combination of several endogenous institutional features, starting from systematic disparity in voter registration, strategic selection of electoral rules, city’s form of government, council size, and pay of elected members of the council. We provide causal evidence of the strategic use of local political institutions in reducing electoral representation of minorities based on the U.S. Supreme Court narrow decision of Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which deemed unconstitutional Voting Rights Act (VRA) Section 4(b), removing federal preclearance requirements for a specific subset of U.S. jurisdictions.
We would like to thank Matilde Bombardini, Ernesto Dal Bó, Anubhav Jha, Andy Little, Giulia Lo Forte, Adlai Newson, Juan Felipe Riaño-Rodriguez and members of the Berkeley Political Economy Research Lab for many comments and useful suggestions. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.