Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Political Science

First Advisor

Tolbert, Caroline J

First Committee Member

Hutchings, Vincent L

Second Committee Member

Osborn, Tracy

Third Committee Member

Rocha, Rene R

Fourth Committee Member

Hill, Michael


This research aims to understand how black descriptive representation comes about and why black descriptive representation matters, at the state level. What distinguishes this research from previous works is its simultaneous analysis of different forms of descriptive representation at the subnational level, rather than in Congress or at the local level. This research argues black descriptive representation can take four different forms: dyadic, collective, parity and caucus. An important and understudied mechanism for black descriptive representation is the formation of state legislative black caucuses and their potential to influence policy and behavior. Subnational descriptive representation need not have negative tradeoffs for black substantive policy representation, as has been found with minority representation in Congress (Lublin 1997). Black representation is akin to a diamond, and looking at it from only one perspective is similar to judging a diamond only by its color, instead of also judging it by its hardness and fluorescence, as well as its clarity, shape, and size. In short, this work recognizes the multifaceted nature of black representation in the states.

This research defines a theory of black descriptive representation as taking four different forms: dyadic, collective, parity, and caucus. Dyadic descriptive representation is the one-to-one relationship between a legislator and a voter, and heretofore it has received the most scholarly attention. This one-to-one relationship may occur between a minority citizen and their elected representation in Congress, in the state legislature, or in local government (Bobo and Gilliam 1990; Barreto, Segura, and Woods 2004), but this work focuses on dyadic descriptive representation in Congress. Although some argue that dyadic descriptive representation leads to better policy outcomes for blacks (Whitby 1997; Hutchings, McClerking, and Charles 2004), and encourages blacks to engage in politics (Gay 2001; Gay 2002; Tate 2003; Banducci, Donovan, and Karp 2004; Griffin and Keane 2006), others argue that dyadic descriptive representation is not only unnecessary to implement policies beneficial to blacks (Swain 1993), but also that it may actually lead to poorer policy outcomes for the group (Lublin 1997). That is, there is a tradeoff between increasing the number of black representatives (descriptive representation) and passing policies beneficial to the group (substantive representation).

Collective descriptive representation is the relationship that an individual has with elected officials with whom they share a group identity. For blacks, collective descriptive representation may include the percentage of black lawmakers in the state legislature or Congress. An argument developed in this research is that collective descriptive representation in the state legislature, a topic rarely studied by scholars of race and ethnicity, may maximize both descriptive and substantive representation, and as a result, it may encourage black political behavior and lead to better policy outcomes for the group.

Both parity and caucus descriptive representation are extensions of collective descriptive representation in the state legislature. Parity descriptive representation examines the extent to which the percentage of blacks in the state legislature is equal to a state's black population and is a measure of racial equity in electoral representation. Caucus descriptive representation is the formal organization of black lawmakers within a state legislature. Almost no published research has empirically studied legislative black caucuses in the states (for an exception see King-Meadows and Schaller 2006).

Since the four forms of descriptive representation are distinct, the expectation is that they be caused by different factors. Moreover, this research builds on previous work by measuring and defining collective descriptive representation in all fifty states and is the first research to argue that state legislative black caucuses shape political behavior.


black caucus, black president, black state legislators, collective representation, descriptive representation


x, 195 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 181-195).


Copyright 2010 Christopher Jude Clark II