Black Representation and Electoral Geography: Are They Related?

Posted: 1 Nov 2011

See all articles by Lashonda Brenson

Lashonda Brenson

Jowei Chen

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Political Science

Date Written: October 31, 2011


Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the number of elected officials of color has increased at all levels of government. However, after the redistricting practices in the 1990s these gains have remained relatively stagnate. What is particularly alarming is that the states with the largest population of African Americans have had the smallest proportional increases in black Member of Congress (MCs). Some scholars have argued that redistricting practices have further exacerbated the inequality in representation by “maxing out” the number of minority-majority districts; given that few black and Latino members of Congress were elected in majority white districts, this ultimately places a ceiling on the number of minority representatives (Jefferies, 1999). Among other explanations for rate of electoral success of black candidates, we argue that electoral geography - the distribution of black population - works to limit the spaces in which black candidates can emerge.

Using Census block level data on racial composition, we conduct computer legislative districting simulations to estimate the number of majority-black districts that arise naturally from the geographic concentration of black voters. These simulations allow us to estimate the average number of black seats that arise due to a residential concentration of black voters in a particular region, rather than due to intentional racial gerrymandering. We show that the increasing urban concentration of black populations in the south have contributed to a natural increase in the fraction of legislative seats that can be won by blacks. This pattern of increasing black districts rises sharply from the 1970s until the 1990s, when increasing suburbanization of white voters exacerbates the concentration of black voters in inner-city districts. Our simulation results demonstrate that geographic changes in black population, rather than intentional racial gerrymandering, accounts for much of the observed increase in black legislators during this time period.

Keywords: black representation, gerrymandering, electoral geography

Suggested Citation

Brenson, Lashonda M. and Chen, Jowei, Black Representation and Electoral Geography: Are They Related? (October 31, 2011). NCOBPS 43rd Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Jowei Chen

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor - Department of Political Science ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

No contact information is available for Lashonda M. Brenson

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