Descriptive and Substantive Representation in Congress: Evidence from 80,000 Congressional Inquiries

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Authors Kenneth Lowande, Melinda Ritchie, Erinn Lauterbach
Paper Category
Paper Abstract A vast literature debates the efficacy of descriptive representation in legislatures. Though studies argue it influences how communities are represented through constituency service, they are limited since legislators’ daily casework activities are unobserved. Using Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, we collect over 88,000 records of communication between members of the U.S. Congress and federal agencies during the 108th− 113th Congress. We find that women, racial/ethnic minorities, and veterans are more likely to work on behalf of constituents with whom they share identities. Including veterans offers critical leverage in understanding the role of shared experiences. Among legislators with military backgrounds, those with more military service are more likely to work on behalf of veterans. Our findings suggest that shared experiences operate as a critical mechanism for representation, and that causal relationships identified by experimental work have observable implications in the daily work of Congress.
Date of publication 2019
Code Programming Language R

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