A 'Selection Model' of Political Representation

58 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2008

See all articles by Jane Mansbridge

Jane Mansbridge

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: February 1, 2008


Citizen demands for more accountability and transparency are implicitly grounded in a model of political representation based primarily on sanctions, in which the interests of the representative (in economic terms, the agent) are presumed to conflict with those of the constituent (in economic terms, the principal). A selection model of political representation, as with a selection model of principal-agent relations more generally, is possible when the principal and agent have similar objectives and the agent is already internally motivated to pursue those objectives. If a potential representative's intrinsic goals (overall direction and specific policies) are those the constituent desires and if the representative also has a verifiable reputation of being both competent and honest, a constituent can select that representative for office and subsequently spend relatively little effort on monitoring and sanctioning. The higher the probability that the objectives of principal and agent may be aligned, the more efficient it is for the principal to invest resources ex ante, in selecting the required type, rather than ex post, in monitoring and sanctioning. A selection model is efficient when agents face unpredictable future decisions, are hard to monitor, and must act flexibly. Accountability through monitoring and sanctioning is appropriate to the sanctions model, narrative accountability and deliberative accountability to the selection model. Normatively, the selection model tends to focus the attention of both citizens and representatives on the common interest. In political science the selection model was advanced in the early 1960s as one of the two paths to constituency control, but after the 1970s was eclipsed by the sanctions model in spite of data seeming to indicate that in many circumstances it has greater predictive power. Economists have only recently begun to apply the selection model significantly to politics.

Keywords: Electoral Politics, Ethics/Political Philosophy, Political Science

Suggested Citation

Mansbridge, Jane, A 'Selection Model' of Political Representation (February 1, 2008). KSG Working Paper No. RWP08-010, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1083717

Jane Mansbridge (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.hks.harvard.edu/about/faculty-staff-directory/jane-mansbridge

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