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The Conditional Effects of Minority Descriptive Representation: Black Legislators and Policy Influence in the American States

Despite a substantial increase in the number of racial and ethnic minority lawmakers across the United States, scholars have been unable to demonstrate that diversification of representative bodies increases minority group influence over policy decisions outside of small local governing boards. These null findings, however, are primarily due to underspecified empirical designs that do not account for the conditioning effects of racialized political contexts and majority party coalition membership. Using state-level data on welfare benefit levels and a survey of black state legislators, this study shows that black descriptive representation exerts policy influence outside of local governing bodies, but that a highly racialized political context and party control condition the nature and degree of policy influence.