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Patterns of Decision Making in State Legislatures. The Case of Advanced Capitalist Democracies. Winters , Richard F. A Synthesis of Alternatives. Wright , Gerald C. American Political Science Review. Who would you like to send this to? Please enter a valid email address Email already added. Abstract views Abstract views reflect the number of visits to the article landing page. There is more research on the U. We also can characterize relationships over time, as preferences change, following the study of dynamic representation.
They show that policy change nicely follows opinion over time independently of party control. Wlezien and Soroka and Wlezien show the same focusing on budgetary policy. This does not mean that politicians actually respond to changing public preferences, for it may be that they and the public both respond to something else, e. All we can say for sure is that the research captures policy responsiveness in a statistical sense—whether and the extent to which public preferences directly influence policy change, other things being equal.
Of course, policy responsiveness is an institutional outcome. In parliamentary systems, this is fairly straightforward—the government can change policy directly, assuming that it does not face a realistic threat of a vote of no confidence. In presidential systems, agreement across institutions usually is required, as in the United States. Presidential responsiveness to public preferences is conceptually quite simple: The president represents a national constituency and is expected to follow national preferences.
Congressional responsiveness is more complex, even putting aside bicameralism, as members of the legislature represent districts. To the extent that they are responsive to public preferences, then, both the president and Congress should move in tandem, and predictable policy change is the logical consequence, even in the presence of divided government. Here we have a good amount of evidence, as we have seen. How exactly do politicians know what public preferences are? Elections likely provide a good deal of information, but direct representation between elections requires something further.
Politicians may learn about preferences through interactions with constituents; they may just have a good intuition for public preferences Fenno, Polls likely also play a critical role. This work is critical: Of course, politicians have other, more direct sources of information as well.
Representation does not occur in all policy domains in all countries. The characteristics of domains appear to matter, for instance. Let us briefly trace the logic. In its simplest sense, a salient issue is politically important to the public. People care about the issue and have meaningful opinions that structure party support and candidate evaluation.
Candidates are likely to take positions on the issue and it is likely to form the subject of political debate. Politicians, meanwhile, are likely to pay attention to public opinion on the issue—it is in their self-interest to do so, after all. There are many different and clear expressions of this conception of importance.
This reflects a now classic perspective see, e. This not only implies variation in representation across, it implies variation in responsiveness within domains over time, as salience changes. When an issue is not very salient to the public, politicians are expected to be less responsive. As salience increases, however, the relationship should increase. That is, to the extent that salience varies over time, the relationship between opinion and policy itself may vary. Though the expectation is clear, there is little research on the subject.
We simply do not know whether representation varies much over time. Indeed, we still do not know much about the variation in issue importance see Wlezien, Public preferences in the different policy domains are not entirely unique—they tend to move together over time. This patterned movement in preferences is well documented in the United States Erikson et al.
The pattern has led some scholars to conclude that the public does not have preferences for policy in different areas, but rather a single, very general preference for government activity e. From this perspective, measured preferences in various domains largely represent multiple indicators of a single, underlying preference for government action. When compared with the more traditional perspective, this characterization of public opinion implies a very different, global pattern of representation.
Some research shows that, although preferences in different areas do move together over time, the movement is not entirely common Wlezien, Preferences in some domains share little in common with preferences in others; these preferences often move quite independently over time. In short, the work indicates that preferences are some combination of the global and specific —moving together to some degree, but exhibiting some independent variation as well.
Not surprisingly, these domains tend to be highly salient to voters, the ones on which they pay close attention to what policymakers do. In other less salient domains, policy only follows the general global signal.
In yet other, very low salience domains, policy seemingly does not follow preferences at all. Polities differ in many ways, and some of these differences should have significant implications for the nature and degree of representation. Of fundamental importance are media openness and political competition. Without some degree of media openness, people cannot easily receive information about what government actors do, and thus cannot effectively hold politicians accountable for their actions. Without some level of political competition, governments have less incentive to respond to public opinion.
There is in fact a good body of work on electoral competition and representation. Early research on the subject focuses on dyadic representation in the United States, and argues that legislators facing serious electoral competition are more likely to pay attention to their constituency.
For a recent review, see Griffin, Work focused on policy outputs has also considered and found evidence for the impact of political competitiveness on representation e. Even where we have essential levels of media and political competition, as in most modern democracies including new ones , institutional differences may have important implications for policy representation.
Here we have a growing body of empirical work, particularly on electoral systems. Lijphart provides the first direct statement on the matter. Most importantly, Lijphart suggests that consensual democracies provide better descriptive representation and general policy congruence than do majoritarian systems.
Powell provides further empirical support, focusing specifically on the differences between majoritarian and proportional election rules and their implications for representation. Powell finds that proportional representation tends to produce greater congruence between the government and the public; specifically, that the general ideological disposition of government and the ideological bent of the electorate tend to match up better in proportional systems. According to Powell, this reflects the greater, direct participation of constituencies the vision affords also see Miller et al.
But what about in the periods between elections? Are coalition governments more responsive to ongoing changes in opinion? Although proportional systems may provide more indirect representation, it is not clear that they afford greater direct representation. There is reason to think that governments in majoritarian systems actually are more responsive to opinion change. First, it presumably is easier for a single party to respond to changes than a multiparty coalition, as coordination in the latter is more difficult and costly. Second, majoritarian governments may have more of an incentive to respond to opinion change.
Since a shift in electoral sentiment has bigger consequences on Election Day in majoritarian systems, governments there are likely to pay especially close attention to the ebb and flow of opinion. Thus, it may be that the two systems both work to serve representation, but in different ways, where proportional systems provide better indirect representation via elections and majoritarian systems better direct representation in between elections.
Just as electoral systems may matter, so too may government institutions. In particular, research suggests that the horizontal division of powers may structure the relationships between opinion and policy over time. This presumably aids indirect representation: To the extent election outcomes reflect public opinion, then policy representation will follow quite naturally, at least to the extent we have responsible parties.
The same seemingly is not true about direct representation, and there is reason to suppose that parliamentary governments are less reliable in their attendance to public opinion over time. Scholars have long noted the dominance of cabinets over parliaments see, e.
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Scholars portray a world in which governments exercise substantial discretion, where the cabinet is the proposer, putting legislation to a legislature that ultimately has only a limited check on what the government does. This has fairly direct implications for government responsiveness. When there are differences between what the cabinet and parliament want, the latter cannot effectively impose its own contrary will.
In the latter the executive cannot effectively act without the legislature, at least with respect to statute.
The legislature is the proposer—it puts statute to the executive—and while the executive can veto legislation the legislature can typically override. Most changes in policy require agreement between the executive and legislature, or else a supermajority in the latter.
This is likely to reduce disjunctures between public opinion and policy change. Although the separation of powers makes presidential systems more deliberate in their actions, therefore, it may also make them more reliably responsive to public opinion over time.
We still expect representation in parliamentary systems, of course—after all, governments in these systems are more easily held accountable for their actions, as responsibility is far clearer, particularly in a majoritarian context. In between elections, however, there is little to make parliamentary cabinets accountable except for the prospect of a future electoral competition. Though important, the incentive is imperfect. Who gets what they want in policy? In one conception, the public consists of all citizens, all adults at least. Citizens are all, more or less, equally entitled to vote, and each person has but one vote.
Perhaps then we should all have equal weight where policymaking is concerned. In particular, we might expect politicians to pay special attention to the preferences of active voters. These are the people who matter on Election Day, after all—they are the ones who put and keep politicians in office.
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The representation of voters rather than citizens would not matter much if voters were a random sample. But we know that there are differences between the voting and nonvoting public: Not surprisingly, voters tend to be more conservative than their nonvoting counterparts. If politicians are more attentive to this group, and follow the median voter , then policy will be more conservative than the median citizen would like. This is of obvious importance. We still know relatively little empirically, however, though scholarly interest is on the rise, particularly in the United States.
Griffin and Newman reveal that politicians pay more attention to the opinions of voters than those of nonvoters. There may be related socio-demographic manifestations, across race for example. Political equality also may have explicitly partisan expressions. It may be, for instance, that politicians are more responsive to in-partisans, as Hill and Hurley have argued. This and the other work on inequality in representation is important. It only scratches the surface, however. We need to know more about the breadth and depth of the inequality, both at particular points in time and over time.
To the extent that there is inequality, are politicians more responsive to the opinions of the better-educated, higher-income, more right-wing voting population? We have thus far concentrated on policy representation—the effect of public opinion on public policy. But policy representation ultimately requires that the public notices and responds to what policymakers do.
Without such responsiveness, policymakers would have little incentive to represent what the public wants in policy—there would be no real benefit for doing so, and there would be no real cost for not doing so. Moreover, expressed preferences would be of little use even to those politicians motivated to represent the public for other reasons.
Despite ongoing concerns about the ignorance and irrationality of the average citizen, a growing body of recent work shows that the average citizen may be more informed than initially thought. This is not to say that the average citizen knows very much about politics; but there is accumulating evidence that individuals may be capable of basic, rational political judgments.
The public reacts to both real-world affairs and policy itself, much like a thermostat Wlezien, This conceptualization fits nicely with functionalist models of the policy process, where policy outputs feed back on public inputs into the policymaking process. That representation is likely to be greater in salient domains is largely the product of representatives reacting in domains in which publics themselves are monitoring and reacting to policy change, for instance.
Salient domains are characterized by a higher degree of both representation and responsiveness; more precisely, public responsiveness and policy representation co-vary. This is not equally true across contexts, however. Fundamental to public responsiveness is the acquisition of accurate information about what policymakers are doing, and so responsiveness will be lower when the acquisition of information is more difficult.
So for instance, federalism, by increasing the number of different governments making policy, and thus making less clear what each level of government is doing may decrease responsiveness and representation. Regardless, where information is easier to acquire, public responsiveness—and by implication policy representation—should be greater. Ultimately, we expect variation across domains and institutions in both policy representation and public responsiveness. Yet the existence of each connection between opinion and policy—indeed, the existence of both connections—is critical to the functioning of representative democracy.
Insofar as research seeks to understand what public preferences are, and how these are formed, then, it can be viewed as an examination of the potential for, or success of, representative democratic institutions. The literature makes a contribution to our understanding of one of the most significant and enduring questions in the study of politics: It does not work perfectly to be sure but in some cases it appears to work better than many of us might expect. We thank the editor, Russell Dalton, for helpful comments and also Robert Shapiro for his input in the past.
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