Demographic Underpinnings of Political Empowerment in Multi-Minority Cities

by William A. Clark, Peter A. Morrison

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The representation and empowerment of ethnic and racial minorities has emerged as a significant public policy issue, and one whose importance will broaden in the future. Demography is at the heart of this issue, which flows fundamentally from the size, demographic structure, and spatial concentrations of minority populations. The authors distinguish two modes of empowerment: "dominance," i.e., assuring each group majority status among voters in a district (but reinforcing any preexisting separative tendencies); and "influence," i.e., concentrating a group sufficiently to afford it "influential minority" status among the electors in several districts (reinforcing unifying tendencies). Increasingly, cities will face an explicit choice in striving to accommodate cultural pluralism. That choice will turn on what unifies their populations and what distinguishes or divides their members. It is a choice that eventually can pull cities in separate directions, toward two different visions: one, the traditional conception (however exaggerated) of "melting pot" assimilation; the other, a more complex mosaic of racial and ethnic assertiveness, with an array of groups demanding equity.

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