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Minority Underrepresentation in U.S. Cities


  • Federico Ricca
  • Francesco Trebbi


This paper investigates the patterns of Minority representation and voter registration in U.S. municipal governments. 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 when 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 deemed unconstitutional Voting Rights Act (VRA) Section 4(b), removing federal preclearance requirements for a specific subset of U.S. jurisdictions.

Suggested Citation

  • Federico Ricca & Francesco Trebbi, 2022. "Minority Underrepresentation in U.S. Cities," NBER Working Papers 29738, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:29738
    Note: PE POL

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    Cited by:

    1. Billings, Stephen B. & Braun, Noah & Jones, Daniel & Shi, Ying, 2022. "Disparate Racial Impacts of Shelby County v. Holder on Voter Turnout," IZA Discussion Papers 15829, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    2. Billings, Stephen B. & Braun, Noah & Jones, Daniel B. & Shi, Ying, 2024. "Disparate racial impacts of Shelby County v. Holder on voter turnout," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 230(C).
    3. Casella, Alessandra & Guo, Jeffrey Da-Ren & Jiang, Michelle, 2023. "Minority turnout and representation under cumulative voting. An experiment," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 141(C), pages 133-155.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • P16 - Political Economy and Comparative Economic Systems - - Capitalist Economies - - - Capitalist Institutions; Welfare State
    • P48 - Political Economy and Comparative Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Legal Institutions; Property Rights; Natural Resources; Energy; Environment; Regional Studies

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