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Representation and Legitimacy: Diffuse Support and Descriptive Representation in Westminster Democracies

Snagovsky, Feodor

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This thesis asks the question: does the descriptive representation of ethnic minorities in legislatures affect citizens' diffuse support for the regime? While almost every advanced democracy has become more ethnically diverse through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ethnic minorities and members of overseas-born communities are dramatically underrepresented compared to their presence in the general population. Democratic theory argues that if a group - especially one that is growing so...[Show more]

dc.contributor.authorSnagovsky, Feodor
dc.date.accessioned2019-12-17T09:19:56Z
dc.date.available2019-12-17T09:19:56Z
dc.identifier.urihttp://hdl.handle.net/1885/195682
dc.description.abstractThis thesis asks the question: does the descriptive representation of ethnic minorities in legislatures affect citizens' diffuse support for the regime? While almost every advanced democracy has become more ethnically diverse through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, ethnic minorities and members of overseas-born communities are dramatically underrepresented compared to their presence in the general population. Democratic theory argues that if a group - especially one that is growing so rapidly - has few legislative representatives, their preferences risk being overlooked while jeopardizing the legitimacy of the representative system. Descriptive representation takes place when a representative shares the same race, ethnicity, or gender as their constituents. Arguments in favour of increased descriptive representation are broadly made on three grounds: justice and fairness, the substantive representation of 'minority interests', and increasing the legitimacy of the political system. The first two arguments - justice and substantive representation - have been widely explored. However, despite compelling theoretical evidence, the claim that representation makes political institutions more legitimate in the eyes of their citizenry has been subject to little empirical scrutiny. Using cross-sectional data from the Canadian, Australian and British election studies and data from an original conjoint experiment, the study examines how the descriptive representation of ethnic minorities affects voters' diffuse support for the regime, operationalised as perceptions of government responsiveness. The results show that: (1) candidate-level co-ethnic representation alone is not enough to increase the diffuse support of ethnic minority voters; (2) in some instances, legislator-level descriptive representation does make ethnic minority voters feel like government is more responsive to their demands; (3) certain behavioural and attitudinal factors - such as community-level mobilization and an explicit preference for descriptive representation - moderate the relationship between representation and diffuse support (4) substantive representation, operationalized through partisanship and ideology, may matter more than descriptive representation; and (5) a significant number of white-Anglo voters are threatened by ethnic minority representation in parliament. This study contributes to the advancement of knowledge through an empirical test of a commonly held-assumption: that representation matters for legitimacy. While the findings of this study broadly support this conclusion, they also show evidence of the tension between striving to make institutions more representative and essentialist approaches which assume the most important thing about ethnic minority politicians, voters and the relationship between them, is ethnicity. The findings also inform policy debates about the reform of representative institutions and how the representation of historically excluded groups may relate to our emerging understanding of white identity politics.
dc.language.isoen_AU
dc.titleRepresentation and Legitimacy: Diffuse Support and Descriptive Representation in Westminster Democracies
dc.typeThesis (PhD)
local.contributor.supervisorMcAllister, Ian
local.contributor.supervisorcontactu8002356@anu.edu.au
dc.date.issued2020
local.identifier.doi10.25911/5e81bcf8d9bcb
local.identifier.proquestYes
local.thesisANUonly.author6c344ea8-a175-4522-97fb-926065767e04
local.thesisANUonly.title000000015831_TS_1
local.thesisANUonly.keye023f205-b9e7-fb51-53ec-8a5953eabac5
local.mintdoimint
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