Representation in American Cities: Who Runs for Mayor and Who Wins?

TitleRepresentation in American Cities: Who Runs for Mayor and Who Wins?
Publication TypeUnpublished
AuthorsKirkland P

Despite advances in descriptive representation, U.S. politicians are still overwhelmingly white and male, and the wealth gap between elected officials and their constituents continues to grow.  These circumstances are especially concerning in light of considerable evidence supporting a link between descriptive and substantive representation.  In this paper, I examine descriptive representation in U.S. cities. Drawing on an original dataset that includes gender, race, occupational background, and political experience for more than 3,000 mayoral candidates, I provide a comprehensive account of who runs for mayor and who serves. Covering 248 cities and more than 50 years, these data indicate that like politicians at higher levels of government, mayors tend to be white and male with prior political experience and white-collar careers. Business owners and executives are especially well represented, accounting for about 32% of the candidates in the sample. Despite their numbers, I find little evidence to suggest that business owners and executives win at higher rates than other candidates. However, business owners and executives make up a larger share of mayoral candidates in cities with reform institutions. In particular, candidates in council-manager cities are systematically more likely to have a background as a business owner or executive than candidates from cities with a mayor-council government.