Mobilizing Urban America: Racial Representation as an Explanation for Local Nonprofits' Participation in National Elections
31 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 6 Sep 2014
Date Written: 2009
Local social service and community development organizations are playing an increasingly important role in mobilizing clients to participate in elections. Yet it is not clear why organizations choose to engage in these activities, given that they are outside the scope of their mission and involve uncompensated efforts. Political theories of descriptive representation and representative bureaucracy offer one possible explanation for this seemingly non-rational organizational behavior. Theories of racial representation suggest that organizations will act in ways that advance the political interests of their clients when organizational leadership is racially reflective of the clientele served. This analysis uses survey data from a random sample of 314 nonprofits in sixteen U.S. metropolitan areas to examine the effects of racial representation on the likelihood that nonprofits will register their clients to vote, and the extent to which they encourage clients to go the polls on election day. Findings indicate that nonprofits have an increased likelihood of registering clients to vote when African Americans and Latinos are represented on their boards at levels commensurate with these groups' presence in the community, but only Latino representativeness predicts that these organizations will encourage their clients to go to the polls.
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