Do Voters Prefer Just Any Descriptive Representative? The Case of Multiracial Candidates

Do Voters Prefer Just Any Descriptive Representative? The Case of Multiracial Candidates

By Danielle Casarez Lemi, Southern Methodist University

Although scholars of representation have examined variation in voter support conditional on shared demographic traits, we know little about how voters respond to candidates who belong to multiple racial categories. Multiracial candidates challenge how we think about and study representation. I theorize that multiracial categories provide mixed information about how well a candidate adheres to group norms of identity, resulting in a multiracial advantage across groups, but a disadvantage within groups. A conjoint survey experiment on 786 White, Black, Asian, and Hispanic voters and a separate analysis of support for a multiracial candidate in a real-world election support these claims. Thus, multiracial candidates have the advantage of building coalitions with voters from other groups, but they are disadvantaged when appealing to co-racials with strong racial identities. These findings demonstrate that future research on representation must engage multiracial elites.