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Congressional Committee Demographics and Racially Salient Representation

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Politics, Groups, and Identities




The positive impact of descriptive representation upon congressional committees’ work is well-documented in the literature: more racially diverse chamber membership and leadership increases racially salient committee activity. However, the possible descriptive effects of racially diverse congressional committees remain unexamined. A new dataset records the numbers of Black and Latinx members on all standing committees in the House from the 80th through 114th Congresses. Committees with higher numbers of Black members are more likely to hold racially salient hearings and hold a greater volume of such hearings. The effect remains even after controlling for committee jurisdiction, the race of the committee chair, and House diversity. Though Latinx membership on committees does not have a statistically significant effect upon racially salient hearings by those committees, the new data indicates the comparatively smaller numbers of Latinx members on committees as a likely explanation. The results for Black committee members indicate that representation of racially salient concerns requires not only a racially diverse legislative body but racially diverse committees. A thorough exploration of descriptive representation in legislative action must include consideration of committee diversity as an important piece of the puzzle.

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