Zoltan Hajnal at the University of California, San Diego, has just published an article in the American Political Science Review that looks at the issue of political representation. Democracy at its best is supposed to distribute victories and losses fairly evenly among the population. I may win on this given issue, my candidate may win in this particular election, but the next time I may lose. But because I know that I at least have the potential to win, I come back and fight another day.
For African Americans? Not so much. The abstract:
Critics have long feared that America’s winner-take-all electoral system would undermine the interests of minorities. Unfortunately, few available tests broadly assess how well minorities fare in a democracy. To gauge winners and losers in the American case, I introduce a new measure of representation. For any election, I count up how many voters from each demographic group vote for a candidate that loses. After comparing this new measure to its alternatives, I use data from the entire series of Voter News Service exit polls and a sample of mayoral elections to determine which kinds of voters end up losers. I find that across the range of American elections, African Americans are consistently more likely than other groups to end up losers, raising questions about equity in American democracy. The one exception to the pattern of black failure—congressional House elections—suggests ways to better incorporate minority interests.
This finding has all sorts of implications for elections, and for public policy. Cobb (Michael Bowen, not Dr. Jelani) argues that rights never generated wealth. This isn’t right at all. Coming with the right to choose winners and losers, among other things, is the indirect right to award contracts and to garner services. If that doesn’t lead to wealth, and health I don’t know what does. In the wake of news that political scientists don’t really bring much to the table in the way of policy prescriptions, it’s good to see research like this.