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Who Loses in American Democracy? A Count of Votes Demonstrates the Limited Representation of African Americans

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2009

ZOLTAN L. HAJNAL*
Affiliation:
University of California, San Diego
*
Zoltan L. Hajnal is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521 (zhajnal@ucsd.edu).

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.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2009

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