Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-d9hj2 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-10-01T20:31:33.676Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

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

University of California, San Diego
Zoltan L. Hajnal is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521 (


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.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2009

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Abramowitz, Alan I., and Saunders, Kyle L.. 1998. “Ideological Realignment in the U.S. Electorate.” Journal of Politics 60 (3): 634–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Almaguer, Tomas. 1994. Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Anderson, Christopher J., and Guillory, Christine A.. 1997. “Political Institutions and Satisfaction with Democracy: A Cross National Analysis of Consensus and Majoritarian Systems.” American Political Science Review 91 (March): 6681.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Anderson, Christopher J., and LoTempio, Andrew J.. 2002. “Winning, Losing, and Political Trust in America.” British Journal of Political Science 32 (April): 335–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC). 2007. National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac. Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center Press.Google Scholar
Bartels, Larry M. 1996. “Uninformed Votes: Information Effects in Presidential Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 40 (1): 194230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bartels, Larry M. 2008. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Bell, Derrick. 1978. “The Referendum: Democracy's Barrier to Racial Equality.” Washington Law Review 54 (1): 129.Google Scholar
Bennett, Stephen Earl, and Resnick, David. 1990. “The Implications of Nonvoting for Democracy in the United States.” American Journal of Political Science 34 (3): 771802.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Benoit, Kenneth, and Shepsle, Kenneth A.. 1995. “Electoral Systems and Minority Representation.” In Classifying by Race, ed. Peterson, NJ, P. E.. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Black, Earl, and Black, Merle. 1987. Politics and Society in the South. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Blais, Andre. 2006. “What Affects Voter Turnout?Annual Review of Political Science 9: 111–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blalock, Hubert M. 1967. Toward a Theory of Minority-Group Relations. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
Bobo, Lawrence, and Gilliam, Jr, Franklin D.. 1990. “Race, Sociopolitical Participation, and Black Empowerment.” American Political Science Review 84 (2): 377–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bowler, Shaun, and Donovan, Todd. 2006. “Reasoning about Institutional Change: Winners, Losers, and Support for Electoral Reforms.” British Journal of Political Science 37 (2): 455–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bowler, Shaun, Donovan, Todd, and Brockington, David. 2003. Electoral Reform and Minority Representation: Local Experments with Alternative Elections. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
Browning, Rufus R., Marshall, Dale Rogers, and Tabb, David H.. 1984. Protest Is Not Enough. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Bullock, Charles S., and Dunn, Richard E.. 1999. “The Demise of Racial Districting and the Future of Black Representation.” Emory Law Journal 48 (4): 1209–53.Google Scholar
Bullock, Charles, and MacManus, Susan. 1987. “Staggered Terms and Black Representation.” The Journal of Politics 49 (2): 543–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Butler, Katharine Inglis. 1995. “Affirmative Action Racial Gerrymandering: Fair Representation for Minorities or a Dangerous Recognition of Group Rights?Rutgers Law Journal 26: 595621.Google Scholar
Cameron, Charles, Epstein, David, and Halloran, Sharyn. 1996. “Do Majority-Minority Districts Maximize Substantive Black Representation in Congress?American Political Science Review 90 (4): 794812.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Canon, David. 1999. Race, Redistricting, and Representation: The Unintended Consequences of Black Majority Districts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Carmines, Edward G., and Stimson, James A.. 1989. Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP). 2008. Women in Elective Office: 2008. (Accessed January 23, 2009).Google Scholar
Chavez, Linda. 1992. “Hispanic, Affirmative Action, and Voting.Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 532: 7587.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Citrin, Jack, Green, Donald Philip, and Sears, David O.. 1990. “White Reactions to Black Candidates: When Does Race Matter?Public Opinion Quarterly 54: 7496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Converse, Philip E. 1964. “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics.” In Ideology and Discontent, ed. Apter, D. E.. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Craig, Stephen C., Martinez, Michael D., Gainous, Jason, and Kane, James G.. 2006. “Winners, Losers, and Election Context: Voter Responses to the 2000 Presidential Election.” Political Research Quarterly 59 (4): 579–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davidson, Chandler, and Grofman, Bernard, eds. 1994. Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, 1965–1990. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
de la Garza, Rodolfo O., ed. 1992. Latino Voices: Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban Perspectives on American Politics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
Delli Carpini, Michael X., and Keeter, Scott. 1996. What Americans Know about Politics and Why it Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Edsall, Thomas Byrne, and Edsall, Mary D.. 1991. Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
Eisinger, Peter K. 1982. “Black Employment in Municipal Jobs: The Impact of Black Political Power.” American Political Science Review 76: 380–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ellcessor, Patrick, and Leighley, Jan E.. 2001. “Voters, Non-voters and Minority Representation.” In Representation of Minority Groups in the U.S.: Implications for the Twenty-First Century, ed. Menifield, C. E.. Landham, MD: University Press of America.Google Scholar
Fraga, Luis R. 1992. “Latino Political Incorporation and the Voting Rights Act.” In Controversies in Minority Voting: The Voting Rights Act in Perspective, eds. Grofman, B. and Davidson, C.. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
Frymer, Paul. 1999. Uneasy Alliances: Race and Party Competition in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Gilens, Martin. 2005. “Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness.” Public Opinion Quarterly 69 (5): 778–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Griffin, John D., and Newman, Brian. 2007. “The Unequal Representation of Latinos and Whites.” Journal of Politics 69 (4): 1032–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Griffin, John D., and Newman, Brian. 2008. Minority Report: Evaluating Political Equality in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grofman, Bernard, Handley, Lisa, and Niemi, Richard G.. 1992. Minority Representation and the Quest for Voting Equality. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gronke, Paul, Galanes-Rosenbaum, Eva, and Miller, Peter A.. 2007. “Early Voting and Turnout.” PS: Political Science and Politics 40 (4): 639–45.Google Scholar
Guinier, Lani. 1994. The Tyranny of the Majority: Fundamental Fairness in Representative Democracy. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
Hajnal, Zoltan L. 2007. Changing White Attitudes toward Black Political Leadership. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hajnal, Zoltan L., and Baldassare, Mark. 2001. Finding Common Ground: Racial and Ethnic Attitudes in California. San Francisco: Public Policy Institute of California.Google Scholar
Hajnal, Zoltan, and Trounstine, Jessica. 2005. “Where Turnout Matters: The Consequences of Uneven Turnout in City Politics.” Journal of Politics 67 (2): 515–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hajnal, Zoltan L., Gerber, Elisabeth R., and Louch, Hugh. 2002. “Minorities and Direct Legislation: Evidence from California Ballot Proposition Elections.” Journal of Politics 64 (1): 154–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James, and Jay, John. 1961. The Federalist Papers: A Collection of Essays Written in Support of the Constitution of the United States, ed. Fairfield, R. P.. Garden City, NJ: Anchor Books.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Handley, Lisa, and Grofman, Bernard. 1994. “The Impact of the Voting Rights Act on Minority Representation: Black Officeholding in Southern State Legislatures and Congressional Delegations.” In Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, 1965–1990, eds. Davidson, C. and Grofman, B.. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Hero, Rodney. 1989. “Multiracial Coaltions in City Elections Involving Minority Candidates: Some Evidence from Denver.” Urban Affairs Quarterly 25 (2): 342–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hero, Rodney E., and Tolbert, Caroline J.. 1995. “Latinos and Substantive Representation in the U.S. House of Represenatives: Direct, Indirect, or Non-Existent?American Journal of Political Science 39 (3): 640–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Highton, Benjamin. 2004a. “Voter Registration and Turnout in the United States.” Perspectives on Politics 2 (3): 507–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Highton, Benjamin. 2004b. “White Voters and African American Candidates for Congress.” Political Behavior 26 (1): 125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Highton, Ben, and Wolfinger, R. E.. 2001. “The Political Implications of Higher Turnout.” British Journal of Political Sciece 31 (1): 179–92.Google Scholar
Hochschild, Jennifer L., and Rogers, Reuel. 1999. “Race Relations in a Diversifying Nation.” In New Directions: African Americans in a Diversifying Nation, ed. Jackson, J.. Washington DC: National Policy Association.Google Scholar
Holt, Thomas. 1979. Black Over White: Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction. Urbana: University of Illinois.Google Scholar
Howell, Susan E., and Fagan, Deborah. 1988. “Race and Trust in Government: Testing the Political Reality Model.Public Opinion Quarterly 52: 343–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Huckfeldt, Robert, and Kohfeld, Carol Weitzel. 1989. Race and the Decline of Class in American Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
JCPS (Joint Center for Political Studies). 1994–2003. Black Elected Officials: A National Roster. Washington, DC: JCPS.Google Scholar
Karnig, Albert K., and Welch, Susan. 1980. Black Representation and Urban Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Keech, W. R. 1968. The Impact of Negro Voting: The Role of the Vote in the Quest for Equality. Chicago: Rand McNally.Google Scholar
Kerr, Brinck, and Mladenka, Kenneth R.. 1994. “Does Politics Matter? A Time-Series Analysis of Minority Employment Patterns.” American Journal of Political Science 38 (4): 918–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Key, V. O. 1949. Southern Politics in State and Nation. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.Google Scholar
Kim, Claire Jean. 1999. “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans.” Politics and Society 27 (1): 10138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kinder, Donald R., and Sanders, Lynn. 1996. Divided by Color: Racial Politics and Democratic Ideals. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
King, Gary, Tomz, Michael, and Wittenberg, Jason. 2000. “Making the Most of Statistical Analyses: Improving Interpretation and Presentation.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (2): 341–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kingdon, John W. 1997. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
Klinkner, Philip A., and Smith, Rogers M.. 1999. The Unsteady March: The Rise and Decline of Racial Equality in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Kousser, J. Morgan. 1999. Colorblind Injustice: Minority Voting Rights and the Undoing of the Second Reconstruction. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
Lau, Richard R., and Redlawsk, David P.. 1997. “Voting Correctly.” American Political Science Review 91 (3): 585–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lien, Pei-te, Collet, Christian, Wong, Janelle, and Ramakrishnan, S. Karthrik. 2001. “Asian Pacific-American Public Opinion and Political Participation.” PS: Political Science and Politics 34 (3): 625–30.Google Scholar
Loewen, James. 1990. “Racial Bloc Voting and Political Mobilization in South Carolina.” Review of Black Political Economy 19: 2337.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lublin, David. 1997. The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Interests. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Lupia, Arthur. 1994. “Shortcuts Versus Encyclopedias: Information and Voting Behavior in California Insurance Reform Elections.” American Political Science Review 88 (1): 6376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
MacManus, Susan A., and Bullock, Charles S.. 1993. “Women and Racial/Ethnic Minorities in Mayoral and Council Positions.” In The Municipal Year Book. Washington, DC: International City Management Association.Google Scholar
Mansbridge, Jane. 1999. “Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women? A Contingent Yes.” Journal of Politics 61 (3): 628–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Manza, Jeff. 2006. Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Massey, Douglas S. 2001. “Residential Segregation and Neigborhood Conditions in U.S. Metropolitan Areas.” In America Becoming: Racial Trends and Their Consequences, ed. Smelser, N., Wilson, W. J., and Mitchell, F.. Washington DC: National Academy Press.Google Scholar
McCrary, Peyton. 1990. “Racially Polarized Voting in the South: Quantitative Evidence from the Courtroom.” Social Science History 14 (4): 507–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meier, Kenneth J., and England, Robert E.. 1984. “Black Representation and Educational Policy: Are They Related?American Political Science Review 78: 392403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Menifield, Charles E., ed. 2001. Representation of Minority Groups in the U.S. Lanham, MA: Austin and Winfield.Google Scholar
Mladenka, Kenneth R. 1989. “Barriers to Hispanic Employment Success in 1200 Cities.” Social Science Quarterly 70 (2): 391407.Google Scholar
Nadeau, Richard, and Blais, Andre. 1993. “Accepting the Election Outcome: The Effect of Participation on Loser's Consent.” British Journal of Political Science 23 (Oct): 553–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEAO). 1994–2006. National Roster of Hispanic Elected and Appointed Officials. Los Angeles: NALEAO.Google Scholar
National Council of La Raza. 2006. “How Did Latinos Really Vote in 2004?Washington DC: National Council of La Raza.Google Scholar
Norrander, Barbara J. 1989. “Ideological Representativeness of Presidential Primary Voters.” American Journal of Political Science 33 (3): 570–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Overby, L. Marvin, and Cosgrove, Kenneth M.. 1996. “Unintended Consequences? Racial Redistricting and the Representation of Minority Interests.” Journal of Politics 58 (2): 540–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Page, Benjamin I., and Shapiro, Robert Y.. 1992. The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americam's Policy Preferences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Parker, Frank R. 1990. Black Votes Count: Political Empowerment in Mississippi after 1965. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Phillips, Anne. 1998. “Democracy and Representation: Or, Why Should It Matter Who Our Representatives Are?” In Feminism and Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Pitkin, Hanna F. 1967. The Concept of Represenation. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Popkin, Samuel L. 1991. The Reasoning Voter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Reed, Adolph. 1988. “The Black Urban Regime: Structural Origins and Constraints.” In Power, Community, and the City, ed. Smith, M. P.. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press.Google Scholar
Reeves, Keith. 1997. Voting Hopes or Fears? White Voters, Black Candidates, and Racial Politics in America. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Tierney, John. 1986. Organized Interests and American Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
Schuman, Howard, Steeh, Charlotte, Bobo, Lawrence, and Krysan, Maria. 1997. Racial Attitudes in America: Trends and Interpretations, Rev. Ed., ed. Cambride, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Smith, Robert C. 1996. We Have No Leaders: African Americans in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Albany: University of New York Press.Google Scholar
Stone, Walter J. 1979. “Measuring Constitutency-Representative Linkages: Problems and Prospects.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 4 (4): 623–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Swain, Carol M. 1995. Black Face, Black Interests: The Representation of African Americans in Congress. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Taagepara, Rein, and Shugart, Matthew Soberg. 1989. Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral Systems. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Tate, Katherine. 2003. Black Faces in the Mirror: African Americans and Their Representatives in the U.S. Congress. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Texeira, Ruy A. 1992. The Disappearing American Voter. Washington DC: The Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
Thernstrom, Abigail. 1987. Whose Votes Count? Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Thernstrom, Stephan, and Thernstrom, Abigail. 1997. America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
Trounstine, Jessica. 2008. Political Monopolies in American Cities: The Rise and Fall of Bosses and Reformers. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
U.S. Census Bureau. Voting and Registration Data 2008. (Accessed January 23, 2009).Google Scholar
Verba, Sidney, Schlozman, Kay Lehman, and Brady, Henry E.. 1995. Voice and Equality: Civic Voluntarism in American Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Walters, Ronald W. 1988. Black Presidential Politics in America: A Strategic Approach. Albany: State University of New York.Google Scholar
Welch, Susan. 1990. “The Impact of At-Large Elections on the Representation of Blacks and Hispanics.” Journal of Politics 52: 1050–76.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Whitby, Kenny J. 1997. The Color of Representation: Congressional Behavior and Black Constituents. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wolfinger, Raymond E., and Rosenstone, Steven J.. 1980. Who Votes? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Wright, Gerald. 2008. CBS/New York Times National Polls, Ideology, Party Identification, 1976–2003 Available at Scholar