Political Science Minority Political Engagement and Representation in the United States
by
Jessica Carew
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0128

Introduction

One of the most important areas of study in the field of political behavior in the United States is that of political engagement (often referred to as “civic engagement” or “civic/political participation”). Political engagement relates to the ways people work to influence the political system and the degree to which they are incorporated into the political structure. In order to understand precisely how and why people choose to participate in the political system, scholars have found it necessary to examine many different influential factors, such as political attitudes, perceptions of political efficacy, the influence of various forms of representation, and elements that hinder or encourage seeking political office, among many others. Given the importance of this subfield of study in the context of American democracy, academics have devoted a great deal of attention, both theoretically and empirically, to this subject, particularly since the mid-20th century. The vast majority of the extant research concerning political engagement in the United States has centered on general understandings of the opinion and behavior of the broader American population; however, these studies have been heavily weighted in terms of the engagement of white American populations and have largely ignored the legal, social, and economic barriers that directly influence the structures and realities of racial minority political engagement. Increasingly, the discipline of political science is recognizing the necessity of examining political engagement among minority groups, especially since the civil rights movement’s efforts to place enough pressure on the political system to effect legal and political change. The increasing sociopolitical visibility of racial and ethnic minorities within the United States, in conjunction with increasing numbers of members of these groups in academic settings (many of whom also examine political behavior among minorities), has led to a burgeoning field of study concerning minority political engagement. The resulting subfield of minority political engagement in the United States has increased the breadth and depth of scholarship concerning political participation. Scholars have combined both conceptual and group-based approaches in order to elucidate the ways in which the four main racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States (African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians) work to engage the political system. In order to develop a full picture of past, current, and prospective political engagement within and among these groups, scholars have focused on a wide variety of topics, including the development of group consciousness, group mobilization, participation in electoral and nonelectoral political activity, and political representation. Other areas of theoretical importance in the study of minority political engagement include immigration, assimilation, political empowerment and incorporation, and intersectional identity (especially in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender.)

General Overviews

There are various texts that examine racial and ethnic minority groups in the American political system. Of particular importance, McClain and Stewart 2013, Garcia 2011, Wilkins and Stark 2010, Walton and Smith 2014, Chang 2002, and Shaw, et al. 2014 provide sociopolitical examinations of African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians in the United States. Further, by way of these examinations, these texts illuminate how each group is uniquely situated within the nation with regard to political engagement and the reasons as to why there is variation among these groups with regard to engagement. In its third edition, Browning, et al. 2002 examines multiracial and multiethnic urban politics by way of case studies of specific cities to demonstrate more directly the ways in which minority groups work for political incorporation in city politics. Junn and Haynie 2008 provides a broad array of perspectives demonstrating how minority political engagement is evolving in the 21st century, particularly in the context of racial and ethnic minority immigration. A more extensive examination of minority immigrant political engagement can be found in Ramakrishnan 2006.

  • Browning, Rufus P., Dale Rogers Marshall, and David H. Tabb, eds. Racial Politics in American Cities. 3d ed. New York: Pearson, 2002.

    E-mail Citation »

    This updated edited volume continues to provide invaluable evidence regarding minority political engagement in urban politics by examining inter- and intra-racial political relations in case studies of many cities across the United States. Emphasizes the importance of local-level analysis for minority political engagement.

  • Chang, Gordon, ed. Asian Americans and Politics: Perspectives, Experiences, Prospects. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

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    A rich edited volume that provides a wide variety of approaches to the increasing importance of Asian Americans in the American political system. Provides important theoretical frameworks, including Claire Jean Kim’s “Racial Triangulation,” and various perspectives on panethnic political engagement among Asian Americans.

  • Garcia, John A. Latino Politics in America: Community, Culture, and Interests. 2d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    Emphasizes recognizing the importance of community and ethnic subgroup linkages when examining Latino political engagement. Balances the recognition of “Latino” as a panethnic categorization with in-depth historical and sociopolitical examinations of Latino subgroups, which all lead to important discussions of political orientations, engagement, and policy positions and challenges.

  • Junn, Jane, and Kerry L. Haynie, eds. New Race Politics in America: Understanding Minority and Immigrant Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511790577E-mail Citation »

    Important edited volume for understanding the dynamic nature of multiracial and multiethnic politics. Chapters examine the continuing evolution of minority political engagement and quest for inclusion in the context of the move away from the black-white dichotomy with changing US demographics.

  • McClain, Paula D., and Joseph Stewart Jr. “Can We All Get Along?”: Racial and Ethnic Minorities in American Politics. 6th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview, 2013.

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    Provides a broad and extensive overview of the four main racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States (African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and American Indians). Examines demographics, opinion, political orientations, and engagement. Additional focus is on interminority group relations.

  • Ramakrishnan, S. Karthick. Democracy in Immigrant America: Changing Demographics and Political Participation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2006.

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    Addresses the gap in scholarship on immigrant racial and ethnic minority political participation. Examines both traditional and immigrant-centered models of electoral and nonelectoral political engagement with a wide variety of data sources. Provides suggestions for future study of immigrant political behavior with regard to both policy and research.

  • Shaw, Todd, Louis DeSipio, Dianne Pinderhughes, and Toni-Michelle C. Travis. Uneven Roads: An Introduction to U.S. Racial and Ethnic Politics. Los Angeles: CQ, 2014.

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    Comprehensive examination of the main racial and ethnic minority groups in the context of how they are intricately woven into the complicated web of the US political system. Provides extensive political history of each group and a thorough examination of important current social and political issues.

  • Walton, Hanes, Jr., and Robert C. Smith. American Politics and the African American Quest for Universal Freedom. 7th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2014.

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    Under the framework of the denial of the promise of and core value of freedom in the United States, this work examines the political engagement of African Americans in American politics across all facets of the political arena. Structure mirrors that of American government textbooks and is framed around political behavior and institutions.

  • Wilkins, David E., and Heidi Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark. American Indian Politics and the American Political System. 3d ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2010.

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    Essential reading on the relationship between American Indians and US politics. Frames the examination with the recognition of American Indians as nations, not minorities. Provides in-depth historical and political examination of US federal policy and American Indians as political actors. In-depth examination of American Indian political ideologies, orientations, and activism.

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