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March 15, 2023 @ 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm CDT

Speaker Series: Tabitha Bonilla

Policy Research, Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University
Promises and Identity: How Voters Interpret the Relationship Between Descriptive and Substantive Representation
Hybrid: Virtual/In-Person (ABF Offices, 750 N Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor Chicago, IL)

Despite theory that contrasts substantive and descriptive representation, the measurement of descriptive representation almost always invokes substantive representation to determine if policy focuses are more likely to shift the status quo of a district to policies that favor particular groups. While it is clear that descriptive representation has a complicated relationship with producing policy shifts, it is nevertheless important for redirecting policy under certain circumstances and for mobilizing Black and Latine communities. We believe that colloquially, unlike in academic treatments of representation, voters describe a more complex web of representation. Here, we examine descriptive representation as a component of substantive representation. To test this hypothesis, we use interviews, descriptive survey data, and a survey experiment to demonstrate how descriptive and substantive representation work in tandem.

To register, contact Sophie Kofman at skofman@abfn.org. 


Tabitha Bonilla studies political behavior and communication and broadly examines how elite communication influences voter opinions of candidates and political policies. In particular, her work focuses on how messaging polarizes attitudes or can bridge attitudinal divides with substantive focuses on important topics in American politics ranging from gun control to human trafficking and immigration. Her work incorporates a range of quantitative methods including experiments and text analysis.

Bonilla earned her Ph.D. in political science in 2015 from Stanford University. She then worked as a postdoctoral scholar and teaching fellow in the political science department at the University of Southern California through 2016.