Do More Professionalized Legislatures Discriminate Less? The Role of Staffers in Constituency Service

Date01 September 2020
Published date01 September 2020
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2020, Vol. 48(5) 571 –578
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X20923588
Legislative professionalization affects a host of different out-
comes involving both legislative behavior (Berry et al.,
2000; Maestas, 2000; Squire, 1992) and policy output
(Kousser & Phillips, 2009). Despite the various effects of
professionalization, scholars have not yet examined whether
it might influence discrimination against constituents.
Literature across a number of fields suggests that organiza-
tional professionalization could reduce discrimination
(Andersen & Guul, 2019; Banerjee et al., 2018; Hirschman
& Bosk, 2019; Lipsky, 1983; Mladenka, 1977; Thomas,
1986; Weber, 1922). Several features associated with profes-
sionalism, in particular the increased role staffers play in
constituent communications (Herrick, 2011), could play a
role in reducing discrimination against constituents. Given
the plausibility that professionalization could reduce dis-
crimination, we re-analyzed data from a prior field experi-
ment about discrimination against hypothetical constituents,
and we also coded for the first time approximately 3,000
emails received in the original study allowing us to examine
who responded and some characteristics of their responses.
Our data analysis suggests that professionalization, and
specifically an increase in staffer’s involvement in the legis-
lative enterprise, reduces discrimination in both the rate of
replies to hypothetical constituents and in the content of the
emails that legislative offices send. This is the first evidence
we are aware of suggesting that legislative professionaliza-
tion can play a role in reducing discrimination against
constituents. The substantive importance of these findings
suggests scholars should further investigate the relationship
between discrimination and legislative professionalization,
including explicitly trying to understand the mechanisms
that might lead to reduced discrimination. In addition, our
results suggest that increases in professionalism and the
increase in staffer support increases a legislatures’ capacity
to better represent constituents.
We contribute to a growing literature on the importance
of staffers in the legislative enterprise (Hertel-Fernandez
et al., 2018; McCrain, 2018; Montgomery & Nyhan, 2017;
Pertschuk, 2017) by studying staffers in state legislatures
and their role in constituency service. Early research theo-
rized the importance of staffers in increasing legislative
capacity in Congress (DeGregorio, 1995; Fox & Hammond,
1977; Salisbury & Shepsle, 1981), but it is only recently
that the field has studied the importance of staffers in state
legislatures (Weissert & Weissert, 2000). State legislatures
present an opportunity to advance the study of staffers
because of the variation in their roles and utilization across
states. Likewise, prior literature has discussed the role of
staffers in constituency service (Ziniel, 2009), and we
923588APRXXX10.1177/1532673X20923588American Politics ResearchLandgrave and Weller
1University of California, Riverside, USA
Corresponding Author:
Michelangelo Landgrave, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Political
Science, University of California, Riverside, Riverside, CA, USA.
Do More Professionalized Legislatures
Discriminate Less? The Role of Staffers
in Constituency Service
Michelangelo Landgrave1 and Nicholas Weller1
Research suggests that organizational structure can influence the ability of actors to discriminate. In this research note, we
examine whether the structure of state legislatures affects observed discrimination in correspondent audit studies. We find
that increased legislative professionalization is associated with reduced discrimination against racial minorities. By analyzing
thousands of emails collected in a prior study, we find that legislative professionalization is related to a higher likelihood that
staffers respond to email contacts and staffers are less likely to discriminate against racial minorities across multiple measures
of discrimination. Our findings emphasize the importance of substantively relevant heterogeneity in audit studies and identify
a potential mitigator of discrimination—legislative professionalism. Our results also highlight the importance of staffers in
representation and the legislative process.
discrimination, staffers, constituency service, state legislatures

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