Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Political Science

First Advisor

Kenny J. Whitby


Under what circumstances, can descriptive representatives produce a representation, which may not be merely descriptive, but still substantive in nature? In other words, do descriptive representatives provide representation that produces salient black constituency policies, yet not be strictly black interest substantive policies? Do these black Democrats still “substantively represent” their black constituents and if so, to what extent? More importantly, what legislative actions do they undertake to represent their black constituents? Moreover, can these black Democratic legislators form strategic alliances successfully to prevent passage of policies detrimental to the interest of their black constituency? Can they form alliances to enhance passage of their strategically sponsored measures?

Some empirical studies find that black lawmakers’ descriptive representation behavior translates into meaningful, substantive representation. A few studies have disputed this claim. However, most empirical works that examine the descriptive versus substantive representation issue only look at the black legislators’ legislative bill sponsorship and bill passage count. They have neglected other important dimensions of representation where the black lawmakers’ strategic behavior may be a key explanatory factor.

This research fills this gap by presenting a new theory- A Theory of Strategic Representation. This theory posits that minority caucus members strategically engage in three distinct legislative actions to pursue interests germane to their minority constituents when acting as representatives in a politically constrained legislative environment. Specifically, this research determines the effect of The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus members’ behavior of (1) strategic bill sponsorship; (2) strategic self-selection committee assignments; (3) and strategic coalition formations, including negative veto coalitions, on the substantive representation of their black constituents. These questions are answered by examining the legislative Black Caucus members’ strategic introduction of primary and secondary measures, strategic preference for black interest committees’ appointments, and strategic coalition formations during selected roll call votes. Quantitative analyses of the 109th, 110th, 114th 115th, and the 119th legislative sessions of The South Carolina House of Representatives are conducted. The findings show that strategic representation by black descriptive lawmakers yields substantive representation in a politically constrained state legislative chamber when measured by legislative activities beyond bill introduction and bill passage count.