Elected Officials, Empowered Voters: The Impact of Descriptive Representation on Voter Turnout

Matthew Hayes, Cara Wong, Andrew Bloeser, Mark Fredrickson, Chera LaForge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


How does descriptive representation affect the voter turnout of African Americans? Though theories state that electing officials who belong to a minority group should lead to greater participation among that group’s members via empowerment, the empirical evidence has been mixed. With three decades of voter turnout data, Census data, and data on Black elected officials in South Carolina, we address a number of questions about descriptive representation. Using the number of officials, their level of office, and when they were elected, we investigate how Black representatives affect turnout for Black voters. We find evidence of an empowering effect for African Americans, but find it depends on numbers and jurisdiction, with local representation associated with greater boosts to turnout than federal representation. These results help us reconcile the literature on empowerment by demonstrating the nuanced effects of descriptive representation across level and magnitude of representation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-207
Number of pages23
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2024


  • Race
  • Representation
  • Turnout

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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