The color of their skin or the content of their behavior? Race and perceptions of African American legislators
Previous studies have shown that, because of their race, African American candidates for public office are often evaluated less favorably than their colleagues by voters Does this dynamic continue when black candidates become elected officials? Using data on the North Carolina General Assembly, I address this question by examining the effects of race on perceptions of legislative effectiveness. When the dependent variable is the average effectiveness rating given by three groups -lobbyists, journalists, and other legislators - there is evidence that African American representatives are evaluated negatively because of their race. When the dependent variable is disaggregated into the separate effectiveness ratings given by each of the respondent groups individually, these negative perceptions of blacks on account of race remain on the part of lobbyists and other legislators, but not for journalists. Moreover, the negative perceptions of black representatives are not mitigated by these representatives possessing certain characteristics (e.g., seniority and leadership positions) that previous studies have found to be correlated with positive effectiveness evaluations. The presence of an African American Speaker in one legislative session did, however, seem to attenuate the negative perceptions.
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