The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Ethnic Voting and Latino Representation in U.S. State Legislatures

Thu, September 17, 2009

Jason Casellas has published the first-ever comprehensive analysis explaining the likelihood of Latinos being elected to state legislatures across the United States, and he found strong evidence for ethnic-based voting. There is a strong relationship between the percentage of Latino citizens in a state and the percentage of Latino representatives in a state’s legislature, and an even stronger relationship at the district level. The article, “The Institutional and Demographic Determinants of Latino Representation,” appeared in the August issue of Legislative Studies Quarterly. Casellas is assistant professor of government and associate director of the Public Policy Institute. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Analyzing elections in 2003 and 2004, California had the highest rates of ethnic-based voting. A California district 20% Latino had an 11% probability of electing a Latino representative; a district 40% Latino had a 77% probability of electing a Latino representative; and a district 50% Latino had a 95% probability of electing a Latino representative. In Texas, the figures were: 20% Latino district, three percent probability of electing a Latino representative; 40% Latino district, 29% probability; 50% Latino district, 53% probability; 60% Latino district, 76% probability; and 80% Latino district, 98% probability.

The full analysis investigated elections in presidential election years from 1992-2004 and found that the percentage of Latinos in a state interacted with a legislature’s levels of professionalization and turnover. Because Latinos are political newcomers, lower levels of professionalization and greater turnover are more conducive to Latino representation; combined with a high percentage of Latino citizens, these institutional variables significantly increase the likelihood of Latino representatives in U.S. state legislatures.

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