Working Papers

Minority Underrepresentation in U.S. Cities (with Francesco Trebbi)

Abstract | Paper

This paper investigates the patterns of Minority representation in U.S. municipal governments and of Minority voter registration for the period 1981-2020. We report substantial levels of strategic underrepresentation of African American, Asian, and Latino voters in U.S. local politics. Disproportionality in the representation and in voter registration rates of Minority groups are widespread, but stronger where racial or ethnic minorities are electorally pivotal. Underrepresentation is determined by the combination of several endogenous institutional features, starting from systematic disparity in voter registration, strategic selection of electoral rules, city's form of government, council size, and pay of elected members of the council. We provide causal evidence of the strategic use of local political institutions in reducing electoral representation of minorities based on the U.S. Supreme Court narrow decision of Shelby County v. Holder (2013), which removed Voting Rights Act (VRA) Section 4(b) coverage requirements for a specific subset of U.S. jurisdictions.