Political Knowledge and Policy Representation

In this article, William P. Jaeger, Jeffrey Lyons and Jennifer Wolak argue that attributes of the electorate can also shape the quality of political responsiveness. They show that when state electorates are more knowledgeable about state politics, public preferences are more likely to impact on state policy outcomes.

Political knowledge is central to the success of representative democracy. However, public policy has been shown to follow public opinion even despite low levels of political information in the electorate. Does this mean that political knowledge is irrelevant to policy representation? We consider whether knowledgeable electorates are better able to achieve representative policy outcomes. Using the heterogeneity in the responsiveness of government across the states, we consider how state political knowledge moderates the connection between citizen ideology and the policy outcomes of state government. Using national surveys and multilevel logit with post- stratification, we develop measures of collective political knowledge in the states. We test whether knowledgeable electorates are more likely to secure representative political outcomes than less politically informed constituencies. We find that as state political knowledge increases, so does the correspondence between the preferences of the public and the ideological tenor of state policy outcomes.

Boeing & the Public

An extensive literature argues how interest groups do not only try to affect decision-makers directly but use outsider lobbying strategies to put indirect pressure on them by mobilizing the public (cf Kollman 1998). Denmark is witnessing quite a remarkable discussion these days before having to decide on one of its biggest purchases ever, i.e. which new fighter aircrafts to buy for the airforce. Boeing has launched a major advertisement campaign in national media reassuring Danes that 10,000 national jobs will be created the next 20 years if only their F-18 Super Hornet plane is selected plus issued the population a guarantee that their fighter airplane will actually work from day 1 (assuming this is a good thing!). To reiterate a recent commentary, it remains to be seen whether Boeing is “desperate or smart” but the campaign certainly underlines the complex nature of the relationship between public opinion and interest group lobbying in practice. Read more here.

Lobbying and representation in Switzerland

This new paper by Nathalie Giger and Heike Klüver investigates whether the representation of constituents by members of parliament (MPs), is affected by contacts between lobby organisations and MPs. The article uses an innovative way of measuring public preferences (referenda). Moreover, it continues the growing trend of studies that combine public opinion and interest groups in responsiveness research. Read the article here.

Voting Against Your Constituents? How Lobbying Affects Representation

Nathalie Giger and Heike Klüver


Citizens delegate the representation of their political preferences to members of Parliament (MPs), who are supposed to represent their interests in the legislature. However, MPs are exposed to a variety of interest groups seeking to influence their voting behavior. We argue that interest groups influence how MPs cast their vote in Parliament, but that this effect varies across groups. While lobbying by sectional groups provides incentives for MPs to defect from their constituents, we expect that cause groups in fact strengthen the link between MPs and their voters. We test our argument based on an innovative study of 118 Swiss public referenda, which allows for directly comparing voter preferences with legislative voting of 448 MPs on these issues. Drawing on a multilevel regression analysis, this study shows that interest groups considerably affect the link between MPs and their voters. Our findings have important implications for our understanding of political representation.

Opinion polarization in the US

A good new review of studies of polarization in the US. The discussion is relevant for policy representation primarily because it addresses the question to what extent opinions across issues sort along ideological lines. And because it addresses the question to what extent partisans of different parties overlap.

Mass Polarization: Manifestations and Measurement

Yphtach Lelke


The debate on mass polarization is itself polarized. Some argue that the United States is in the midst of a culture war; others argue that the claims are exaggerated. As polarization is a multifaceted concept, both sides can be correct. I review four distinct manifestations of polarization that have appeared in the public opinion literature—ideological consistency, ideological divergence, perceived polarization, and affective polarization—and discuss ways in which each has been measured. Then, using longitudinal data from the American National Election Studies (ANES), I update past analyses in order to more clearly show the ways in which Americans have or have not polarized: Americans at the mass level have not diverged, nor have they become more consistent ideologically, but partisans have; perceptions of polarization have increased, but this change is driven by partisans, who increasingly dislike one another.

The conditionality of the trade-off between government responsiveness and effectiveness

A paper by Mark Pickup and Sara Hobolt on the trade-off between the effectiveness and responsiveness of governments in Canada. It specifically considers whether other conditions (being a minority government and popularity in the polls) impact this trade-off.

Click here for the full article (paywall).


There is an extensive literature on the relative virtues of different electoral systems in producing more responsive and effective governments, but far less attention has been paid to role of dynamic factors. This article examines how government minority/majority status and popularity shape the trade-off between government responsiveness and effectiveness. We argue that minority governments face legislative constraints that incentivize them to be responsive to the public, but that this comes at the expense of legislative effectiveness. This trade-off between responsiveness and effectiveness is, however, conditioned by the government’s standing in the polls. The more popular a minority government is in the polls, the less responsive and the more effective it becomes. These propositions are tested using original time-series data on public policy preferences, government popularity, legislative output and public expenditures in Canada from 1958 to 2009. Our findings demonstrate that minority governments are more responsive to the median voter but less legislatively effective than majority governments, and that these effects are moderated by the popularity of the government.

Do citizens value responsiveness?

Yet another paper on how citizens view responsiveness. This issue seems to be generating a whole lot of attention lately.


Trustees, Delegates, and Responsiveness in Comparative Perspective

Shaun Bowler


A large body of aggregate-level work shows that government policies do indeed respond to citizen preferences. But whether citizens recognize that government is responsive is another question entirely. Indeed, a prior question is whether or not citizens value responsiveness in the way that academic research assumes they should in the first place. Using comparative data from the European Social Survey, this article examines how citizens see government responsiveness. We show that several key assumptions of the aggregate-level literature are met at the individual level. But we also present results that show that attitudes toward representation and responsiveness are colored, sometimes in quite surprising ways, by winner–loser effects. In a finding that stands in some contrast to the normative literature on the topic, we show that these sorts of short-term attitudes help shape preferences for models of representation. In particular, we show that the distinction between delegates and trustees is a conceptual distinction that has limits in helping us to understand citizen preferences for representation.

Connecting representation with electoral politics

A new paper by Chris Wlezien himself:

Policy (Mis)Representation and the Cost of RulingU.S. Presidential Elections in Comparative Perspective


The cost of ruling effect on electoral support is well established. That is, governing parties tend to lose vote share the longer they are in power. Although we know this to be true, we do not know why it happens. This research examines whether the cost of ruling results at least in part from the tendency for governing parties to shift policy further away from the average voter. It first considers differences in political institutions and how they might influence cost of ruling owing to policy drift, and then tests the hypothesis focusing on U.S. presidential elections, which is an unfavorable case to find such an effect. Results confirm a clear cost of ruling effect in these elections and demonstrate that policy misrepresentation is an important mechanism. That is, the policy liberalism of presidents from different parties diverges over time as their tenure in the White House increases, and the degree to which it does matters for the presidential vote. Policy is not the only thing that matters, and other factors, in particular the economy, are more powerful. From the point of view of electoral accountability, however, the results do provide good news, as they indicate that substantive representation is important to voters. Elections are not simply games of musical chairs.