First Advisor

Melody Ellis Valdini

Term of Graduation

Spring 2018

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Public Affairs and Policy


Public Affairs and Policy




Representative government and representation, Minority legislators, Legislative bodies, Policy sciences



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 201 pages)


In 2015, 78% of Detroit's city council was African American--the highest percentage in the country. For decades, there had been an assumption in the academic and activist fields that a legislative body with such a high percentage of minority presence would produce incredible policy gains for that group (i.e. African American Detroiters). Instead, the council passed no Black racial policy. In a city where there were ostensibly no barriers for passing racial policy -- there were no subsequent policy gains. Though running contrary to existing scholarship, Detroit is not an anomaly; it is an indicator of the larger trend.

Using a mixed methods approach, I consider the impact of descriptive representation (i.e. presence of a minority group) on representation in policy (i.e. policy outcomes). The thesis that emerges from my examination is that the relationship between descriptive representation and representation in policy is not static, as has been suggested, but dynamic. The amount of representation in policy that a group achieves is a function of descriptive representation, but the relationship is not linear. More descriptive representation does not always predict more representation in policy. And indeed, cities with the most descriptive representation often have relatively low levels of representation in policy. This work challenges the current body of literature and calls for substantial revision of seminal theory.


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