Political Behavior

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 315–333 | Cite as

Collective Descriptive Representation and Black Voter Mobilization in 2008

  • Christopher J. ClarkEmail author
Original Paper


Although record turnout in the 2008 election is primarily credited to Obama’s candidacy, did the presence of black elected officials in the state legislature play a role in mobilizing black voters? Did patterns of mobilization differ among black voters? Using the 2008 American National Election Study that I merged with contextual data, I find that disengaged black voters in states with a greater number of black state legislators, or what I refer to as collective descriptive representation, were more likely to be contacted, and as a result, were more likely to vote. On the other hand, neither collective descriptive representation nor being contacted influenced the political behavior of engaged black voters. This suggests that in 2008, descriptive representation and experiencing contact mattered more for mobilizing disengaged black voters than for mobilizing engaged black voters.


Descriptive representation Obama Black voter mobilization Voter turnout 2008 election 



I would like to thank Tom Carsey, Vincent Hutchings, Rene Rocha, Caroline Tolbert, and anonymous reviewers for their helpful feedback on this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11109_2013_9237_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (170 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 170 kb). Online appendix for collective descriptive representation and black voter mobilization in 2008


  1. Aldrich, J. H., Montgomery, J. M., & Wood, Wendy. (2011). Turnout as habit. Political Behavior, 33(4), 535–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Amer, M. L. (2008). African American members of the United States congress: 1870–2008. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.Google Scholar
  3. Banducci, S. A., Donovan, T., & Karp, J. A. (2005). Effects of minority representation on political attitudes and participation. In S. Bowler & G. M. Segura (Eds.), Diversity in democracy: Minority representation in the United States (pp. 193–215). Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
  4. Barker, L. J. (1984). Our time has come: A delegate’s diary of Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bergan, D. E., Gerber, A. S., Green, D. P., & Panagopoulous, C. (2005). Grassroots mobilization and voter turnout in 2004. Public Opinion Quarterly, 69(5), 760–777.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bligh, M. C., & Kohles, J. C. (2009). The enduring allure of charisma: How Obama won the historic 2008 presidential election. The Leadership Quarterly, 20(3), 483–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bobo, L., & Gilliam, F. D. (1990). Race, sociopolitical participation, and black empowerment. American Political Science Review, 84(2), 377–393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brambor, T., Clark, W. R., & Golder, M. (2006). Understanding interaction models: Improving empirical analyses. Political Analysis, 14(1), 63–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Browning, R. P., Marshall, D. R., & Tabb, D. H. (1984). Protest is not enough: The struggle of blacks and hispanics for equality in urban politics. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  10. Burns, N., Schlozman, K. L., & Verba, S. (2001). The private roots of public action: Gender, equality, and political participation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Button, J., & Hedge, D. (1996). Legislative life in the 1990s: A comparison of black and white state legislators. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 21(2), 199–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Calhoun-Brown, A. (1996). African American churches and political mobilization: The psychological impact of organizational resources. Journal of Politics, 58(4), 935–953.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Campbell, A., Converse, P. E., Miller, W. E., & Stokes, D. E. (1960). The American voter. New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  14. Cann, D. M., & Cole, J. B. (2011). Strategic campaigning, closeness, and voter mobilization in U.S. presidential elections. Electoral Studies, 30(2), 344–352.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Claibourn, M. P., & Martin, P. S. (2012). Creating constituencies: Presidential campaigns, the scope of conflict, and selective mobilization. Political Behavior, 34(1), 27–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Colatoni, C. S., Levesque, T. J., & Ordeshook, P. C. (1975). Campaign resource allocations under the Electoral College. American Political Science Review, 69(1), 141–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cox, G., & Munger, M. C. (1989). Closeness, expenditures, and turnout in the 1982 U.S. House elections. American Political Science Review, 83(1), 217–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. DeFrancesco Soto, V. M., & Merolla, J. L. (2006). Vota por tu futuro: Partisan mobilization of Latino voters in the 2000 presidential election. Political Behavior, 28(4), 285–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Downs, A. (1957). An economic theory of democracy. New York, NY: Harper.Google Scholar
  20. Gay, C. (2001). The effect of black congressional representation on political participation. American Political Science Review, 95(3), 589–602.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gerber, A. S., Green, D. P., & Shachar, R. (2003). Voting may be habit-forming: Evidence from a randomized field experiment. American Journal of Political Science, 47(3), 540–550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gilliam, F. D. (1996). Exploring minority empowerment: Symbolic politics, governing coalitions, and traces of political style in Los Angeles. American Journal of Political Science, 40(1), 56–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gilliam, F. D., & Kaufmann, K. M. (1998). Is there an empowerment life cycle?: Long- term black empowerment and its influence on voter participation. Urban Affairs Review, 33(6), 741–766.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Goldstein, K. M., & Ridout, T. N. (2002). The politics of participation: Mobilization and turnout over time. Political Behavior, 24(1), 3–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Green, D. P. (2004). Mobilizing African-American voters using direct mail and commercial phone banks: A field experiment. American Political Science Review, 94(3), 653–663.Google Scholar
  26. Griffin, J. D., & Keane, M. (2006). Descriptive representation and the composition of African American turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 50(4), 998–1012.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grose, C. R. (2011). Congress in black and white: Race and representation in Washington and at home. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Grose, C. R., Husser, J., & Yoshinaka, A. (2010). Plus ça change: Race, gender, and issue retrospections in the 2008 US presidential election. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties, 20(2), 187–211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gujurati, D. N. (1995). Basic econometrics (3rd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.Google Scholar
  30. Gurin, P., Hatchett, S., & Jackson, J. S. (1989). Hope and independence: Blacks’ response to electoral and party politics. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  31. Harris, F. C. (1999). Something within: Religion in African-American political activism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Haynie, K. L. (2001). African American legislators in the American states. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Heberlig, E. S., Francia, P. L., & Greene, S. H. (2011). The conditional party teams of the 2008 north carolina presidential elections. In D. B. Magelby (Ed.), The change election: Money, mobilization, and persuasion in the 2008 federal elections (pp. 108–135). Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Highton, B. (2000). Residential mobility, community mobility, and electoral participation. Political Behavior, 22(2), 109–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hillygus, D. S. (2005). Campaign effects and the dynamics of turnout intention in election 2000. Journal of Politics, 67(1), 50–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jackman, S., & Vavreck, L. (2010). Primary politics: Race, gender, and age in the 2008 democratic primary. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties, 20(2), 153–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. (2007). Black state legislators with gender. Washington, DC: Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.Google Scholar
  38. Keon, S. (2007). The book of the states (Vol. 39). Lexington, KY: The Council of State Governments.Google Scholar
  39. Key, V. O. (1949). Southern politics in state and nation. New York, NY: Knopf.Google Scholar
  40. Kim, J., Petrocik, J. R., & Enokson, S. N. (1975). Voter turnout among the American states: Systemic and individual components. American Political Science Review, 69(1), 107–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kinder, D. R., & Dale-Riddle, A. (2012). The end of race? Obama, 2008, and racial politics in America. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  42. King-Meadows, T., & Schaller, T. F. (2006). Devolution and black state legislators: Challenges and choices in the twenty-first century. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  43. Leighley, J. E. (2001). Strength in numbers? The political mobilization of racial and ethnic minorities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Lewis-Beck, M. S., Jacoby, W. G., Norpoth, H., & Weisberg, H. F. (2008). The American voter revisited. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  45. Lien, P. (1998). Does the gender gap in political attitudes and behavior vary across racial groups? Political Research Quarterly, 51(4), 869–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lipsitz, K. (2009). The consequences of battleground and “spectator” state residency for political participation. Political Behavior, 31(2), 187–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Long, J. S. (1997). Regression models for categorical and limited dependent variables. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  48. Masket, S. E. (2009). Did Obama’s ground game matter? The influence of local field offices during the 2008 presidential election. Public Opinion Quarterly, 73(5), 1023–1039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McClain, P. D., & Stewart, J., Jr. (2010). “Can we all get along?” Racial and ethnic minorities in American politics (5th ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  50. McClerking, H. K., & McDaniel, E. L. (2005). Belonging and doing: Political churches and black political participation. Political Psychology, 26(5), 721–733.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. McKenzie, B. D. (2004). Religious social networks, indirect mobilization, and African- American political participation. Political Research Quarterly, 57(4), 621–632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Morrison, Minion. K. C. (1987). Black political mobilization: Leadership, power, and mass behavior. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  53. Moskowitz, D., & Stroh, P. (1994). Psychological sources of electoral racism. Political Psychology, 15(2), 307–329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Nelson, A. J. (1991). Emerging influentials in state legislatures: women, blacks, and hispanics. New York, NY: Praeger.Google Scholar
  55. Osborn, T., McClurg, S. D., & Knoll, B. (2010). Voter mobilization and the Obama victory. American Politics Review, 38(2), 211–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Panagopoulous, C., & Francia, P. L. (2009). Grassroots mobilization in the 2008 presidential election. Journal of Political Marketing, 8(4), 315–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Panagopoulous, C., & Wielhouwer, P. W. (2008). The ground war 2000–2004: Strategic targeting in grassroots campaigns. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 38(2), 347–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Parker, C. S. (2009). Fighting for democracy: Black Veterans and the struggle against white supremacy in the postwar south. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  59. Parry, J., Barth, J., Kropf, M., & Jones, E. T. (2008). Mobilizing the seldom voter: Campaign contact and effects in high-profile elections. Political Behavior, 30(1), 97–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Philpot, T. S., Shaw, D. R., & McGowen, E. B. (2009). Winning the race: Black voter turnout in the 2008 presidential election. Public Opinion Quarterly, 73(5), 995–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Preston, M. (1989). Who voted for Jackson and why. In L. J. Barker & R. W. Walters (Eds.), Jesse jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign: Challenge and change in American politics (pp. 129–149). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  62. Primo, D. M., Jacobsmeier, M. L., & Milyo, J. (2007). Estimating the impact of state policies and institutions with mixed-level data. State Politics and Policy Quarterly, 7(4), 446–459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Reeves, K. (1997). Voting hopes or fears? White voters, black candidates, and racial politics in America. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Rocha, R. R., Tolbert, C. J., Bowen, D. C., & Clark, C. J. (2010). Race and turnout: Does descriptive representation in state legislatures increase minority voting? Political Research Quarterly, 63(4), 890–907.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Rosenstone, S. J., & Hansen, J. M. (2003). Mobilization, participation, and democracy in America. New York, NY: Longman.Google Scholar
  66. Sears, D. O., Citrin, J., & Kosterman, R. (1987). Jesse Jackson and the southern white electorate in 1984. In L. W. Moreland, R. P. Steed, & T. A. Baker (Eds.), Blacks in southern politics (pp. 209–225). New York, NY: Praeger.Google Scholar
  67. Smith, D. A., & Tolbert, C. J. (2004). Educated by initiative: The effects of direct democracy on citizens and political organizations in the American states. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  68. Spence, L. K., & McClerking, H. K. (2010). Context, black empowerment, and African American political participation. American Politics Research, 38(5), 909–930.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Spence, L. K., McClerking, H. K., & Brown, R. (2009). Revisiting black incorporation and local political participation. Urban Affairs Review, 45(2), 274–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Squire, P., Wolfinger, R. E., & Glass, D. (1987). Residential mobility and voter turnout. American Political Science Review, 81(1), 45–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. State Ballot Measures. (2008). National Conference of State Legislatures. 17 September 2008. Web. 28 June 2011.Google Scholar
  72. Tate, K. (1993). From protest to politics: The new black voters in American elections. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Tate, K. (2003). Black faces in the mirror: African Americans and their representatives in the U.S. congress. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  74. Terkildsen, N. (1993). When white voters evaluate black candidates: The processing implications of candidate skin color, prejudice, and self-monitoring. American Journal of Political Science, 37(4), 1032–1053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. The American National Election Studies (ANES). (2008). ANES panel study (dataset). Stanford University and University of Michigan (producers and distributors). Accessed April 2011.
  76. Tolbert, C. J., Grummel, J. A., & Smith, D. A. (2001). The effects of ballot initiatives on voter turnout in the American states. American Politics Research, 29(6), 625–648.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Tolbert, C. J., & Smith, D. A. (2005). The educative effects of ballot initiatives on voter turnout. American Politics Research, 33(2), 283–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. U.S. Census Bureau. (2008). Current population survey, Table A1. Reported voting and registration by race, hispanic origin, sex and age groups: November 1964 to 2008.Google Scholar
  79. Verba, S., & Nie, N. H. (1972). Participation in America: Political democracy and social equality. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  80. Walters, R. W. (1988). Black presidential politics in America: A strategic approach. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  81. Walters, R. W. (2005). Freedom is not enough: Black voters, black candidates, and american presidential politics. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  82. Whitby, K. J. (2007). The effect of descriptive representation on black electoral turnout in the 2004 elections. Social Science Quarterly, 88(4), 1010–1023.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Wielhouwer, P. W. (1997). Parties and the mobilization of women. The American Review of Politics, 18(1), 369–388.Google Scholar
  84. Wielhouwer, P. W. (2000). Releasing the fetters: Parties and mobilization of the African-American electorate. Journal of Politics, 62(1), 206–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Wolfinger, R., & Rosenstone, S. J. (1980). Who votes?. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations