Majority-Minority Districts: A Closer Look

Today, government (federal, state, and local) are more diverse than in the past, but not as diverse as the populations represented.  This increase in descriptive representation is largely due to the creation of majority-minority legislative districts.

“In most majority-minority districts [in Texas], i.e., majority black and/or Latino, blacks and Latinos were able to achieve descriptive representation” in the Texas legislature (Lavariega Monforti, Orey, and Conroy 2009).

Some have raised concerns about whether the increase in descriptive representation due to majority-minority districts has translated into substantive representation — in other words, whether more diverse legislature (when said diversity is attained through creating homogenous voting districts) produces substantive changes in legislative outcomes (i.e., types of laws passed).   When we look at the U.S. Congress, we find that Congress as a whole has become less enthusiastic about minority issues, due in part to the paradox of majority-minority districts:

“. . . by creating districts with high percentages of minority constituents, strategists have made the other districts less diverse. The representatives in those districts are under very little pressure to consider the interests of minority groups. As a result, they typically do not.”  (Openstax: American Government)

Lavariega Monforti et al. (2009) examined this whether descriptive representation translated to substantive representation within the Texas Legislature by looking at bill sponsorship (bills introduced) during the 77th Legislature (2001-2002).  They found that:

  • black female Democrats, black male Democrats, Latino male Democrats, white female Democrats, and white male Democrats were more likely to introduce progressive bills than white female Republicans, white male Republicans, Latina female Republicans, and Latina female Democrats
  • legislators’ race, gender, and party played a role in what kinds of progressive bills they sponsored (i.e., education, health, welfare, children, women’s issues, racial issues)

Additional Reading

Lavariega Monforti, J. L., Orey, B. D, & Conroy, A. J. (2009, May). The Politics of Race, Gender, Ethnicity, and Representation in the Texas Legislature. Journal of Race & Policy, 5(35).