Understanding minority incorporation: evidence from state and local politics
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This dissertation seeks to identify why some local governments succeed at incorporating minority populations while others fail. I do this by looking at three distinct areas of political life: elections, policy implementation, and legislative responsiveness. In the first paper I investigate when and how party information affects minority electability. With nonpartisan ballots are used in more than three-quarters of local elections, studies tend to overlook the importance of party in election outcomes. However, after coding newspaper articles about mayoral elections across the U.S., I show that party information is often a central feature of partisan and nonpartisan contests alike. The importance of this finding should not be understated as the data reveals that an increase in voter access to party information substantially weakens the effect of an African American candidate’s race on their electability. The second paper uses the case of Secure Communities to argue that partisanship is not sufficient for explaining variation in local approaches to immigration policy. Using a novel dataset that combines county-level deportation rates, policing budgets, and data on contracts between local prison facilities, private corporations, and federal agencies, I find that local compliance is explained by resource capacity first and political orientations second. Given the opposing positions of Republicans and Democrats on immigration enforcement programs, this result demonstrates that even when dealing with a particularly partisan issue there are other forces that can moderate the extent to which partisan influence matters. The final paper tests whether legislators are responsive to minority-based interests using the case of E-Verify – an employment verification system that nearly half of all state legislatures have implemented. Assessing both state-level variation in E-Verify adoption and the roll call behavior of individual legislators, I show that legislative bodies and their members are responsive to sub-constituencies with the strongest preferences on E-Verify: agribusiness and the foreign-born community. However, responsiveness only occurs if that group is a constituency that the legislator would normally cater to. In other words, Republicans are willing to break with their party position and vote against E-Verify, but only if they represent districts with large agribusiness interests. Likewise, Democrats are responsive to their foreign-born constituents, but not farm owners. The implication of this is that the interests of minorities in Republican districts may suffer when they are not aligned with aggregate opinion or another sub-constituency that holds substantial influence over Republican lawmakers.