Latino Studies Political Representation, Coalitions, and Gender
Jason P. Casellas, Kenicia Wright
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0008


The study of Latino politics began with comparisons to racial and ethnic politics, first in the urban setting; then, as more data sets became available, scholars turned to political behavior and public opinion research. More recently, however, scholars have begun to consider Latino political representation in legislative institutions, as well as coalition building with other racial and ethnic minorities as well as Anglos. Effective representation is essential to democratic stability, and as the Occupy movement and Tea Party movement indicate, citizens have become disaffected by what they consider to be the lack of representation. Latinos are descriptively underrepresented in nearly all institutions of power. In the words of Browning, Marshall, and Tabb, Latinos are not as politically incorporated as their numbers would suggest. This means they are not at the decision-making table in numbers that are necessary for effective representation. Scholarship on representation has noted the extent to which descriptive representation matters for substantive representation. In addition, we should be attentive not only to demographic explanations for increased representation, but also to the extent to which institutions matter for fostering the conditions under which Latinos and other disadvantaged groups can have better probabilities of winning in districts. This can involve the formation of coalitions with other groups, a strategy that has yielded mixed results. For example, in school board districts, blacks and Latinos were not always uniting to elect candidates of choice. As immigration increases, there is some evidence that whites and blacks are forming coalitions to address Hispanic growth. In addition, more scholars have attempted to consider the public opinion attitudes and political participation rates of Latinas. More research is needed to examine the role of Latinas with regard to how they are involved in the political process and their election to legislative bodies. This bibliography will therefore consider the latest theoretical and empirical contributions to the study of Latino representation, Latinos in coalitions, and Latinas in the political process. The overriding theme that emerges from consideration of the literature is that Latino representation is an ongoing process that will take time to fully develop. Coalitions with other groups have yielded some benefits to Latino communities, but these are ephemeral and can unravel at any time. Latinas are more involved than ever in politics, and this is a positive development, especially when they are representing districts with diverse constituencies. This article also gives attention to the recent literature on the effects of Latina representation and how the intersectional effects of the ethnicity and gender of these women result in differences between them and Latino male representatives.

Theories of Legislative Representation

Representation is at the heart of a democratic polity. Citizens demand and expect effective representation of their interests, and the essays in Segura and Bowler 2005 reflect on this phenomenon, from the perspective of minority representation. One of the first political scientists in recent times to theorize about representation was Hanna Pitkin. Pitkin 1967 divides the concept into descriptive and substantive types. Descriptive representation is when someone of a similar race or ethnicity is elected to represent a constituency. Substantive representation is when the interests of a particular constituency are represented by a representative regardless of racial or ethnic background. Scholars studying gender in politics, bureaucracies, and judicial branches have also made great strides understanding the theoretical basis of representation in their respective domains. One of the most common arguments in support of descriptive representation is that women and men have different preferences and policy priorities. That seems to be the case as women pursue different policy interests than their male counterparts (Bratton and Haynie 1999), are more likely to advocate for women’s interests (Bratton 2005), and view their responsibility as legislators different from men (Reingold 1992). Phillips 1995 and Young 2000 argue for the importance of descriptive representation in the case of gender equity. Mansbridge 1999 elaborates on the tradeoffs between these two types of representation, by arguing that descriptive representation is important for historically disadvantaged groups mainly because coalitions have not formed around minority interests and their interests are relatively uncrystallized. Theorists continue to be interested in questions of representation, but empirical scholars should also speak to theorists, and vice versa. Dovi 2002 and Rehfeld 2005 bridge this divide, by theorizing on the importance of descriptive representation under certain contexts and proposing ways to enhance representation. Much of this literature does not interact in any meaningful way, with the exception of Cristina Beltrán’s recent book, The Trouble with Unity (2010), discussed in the Oxford Bibliographies article in Latino Studies “Latino Politics”.

  • Bratton, Kathleen A. “Critical Mass Theory Revisited: The Behavior and Success of Token Women in State Legislatures.” Politics & Gender 1.1 (2005): 97–125.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1743923X0505004X

    This article examines the link between descriptive representation and substantive representation by studying the issues women in state legislatures pursue. Using data from state legislatures, the findings suggest female legislators more actively sponsor legislation relating to women’s issues—regardless of any skew that exists in the female-to-male ratio composition of state legislatures.

  • Bratton, Kathleen A., and Kerry L. Haynie. “Agenda Setting and Legislative Success in State Legislatures: The Effects of Gender and Race.” Journal of Politics 61.3 (1999): 658–679.

    DOI: 10.2307/2647822

    This article tests a model of descriptive representation by studying the agenda-setting behavior of female state legislators and black state legislators. The authors use data on all the bills introduced in 1969, 1979, and 1989 in the lower houses of state legislatures in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, and North Carolina. Their findings suggest that female state legislators and black state legislators have different policy interests than their male and white counterparts, highlighting the potentially beneficial effects of the representation of women and blacks/minorities.

  • Dovi, Suzanne. “Preferable Descriptive Representatives: Will Just Any Woman, Black, or Latino Do?” American Political Science Review 96.4 (2002): 729–743.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0003055402000412

    Argues that some descriptive representatives who have experience with disadvantages of certain groups are preferable, and that there are specific criteria for such evaluation.

  • Mansbridge, Jane. “Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women? A Contingent ‘Yes.’” Journal of Politics 61.3 (1999): 628–657.

    DOI: 10.2307/2647821

    Articulates a defense of descriptive representation as necessary for substantive representation under conditions by which the interests of minorities are not crystallized into the political agenda.

  • Phillips, Anne. The Politics of Presence. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

    Theoretical analysis of gender and representation. Empirical application to quota systems in Europe and the Voting Rights Act in the United States.

  • Pitkin, Hanna F. The Concept of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

    Definitive theoretical treatment of the concept of representation. Reprinted as recently as 2011.

  • Rehfeld, Andrew. The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511509674

    This book challenges the traditional concept of representation by virtue of location and instead argues for randomly assigned districts to eliminate particularized benefits at the public’s expense and the unfairness of redistricting.

  • Reingold, Beth. “Concepts of Representation among Female and Male State Legislators.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 17.4 (1992): 509–537.

    DOI: 10.2307/439864

    This article uses an attitudinal approach to understanding how legislators represent women and women’s issues. Using interview data from state legislators in California and Arizona, the findings suggest that female legislators are more likely to view themselves as representatives for women than male legislators.

  • Segura, Gary M., and Shaun Bowler, eds. Diversity in Democracy: Minority Representation in the United States. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2005.

    Edited volume featuring the latest scholarship on minority representation.

  • Young, Iris Marion. Inclusion and Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Argues for a greater role for race, ethnicity, and gender inclusion in national and global institutions.

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