Are Legislators More Responsive to Public Opinion on Salient Issues?
47 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 26 Aug 2012
Date Written: 2012
Are legislators more responsive to public opinion on salient issues? A large literature indicates that the answer is yes. Due to insufficient district-level sample sizes, however, past studies have focused on small sets of issues. This study moves beyond previous work by comparing legislators’ votes on a large number of roll call votes from the 107-111th Congresses directly to public opinion on those issues. I find that members of Congress are generally responsive to public opinion on individual issues. But they are not more responsive to their average constituent on salient issues. Instead, representatives are more responsive to their partisan sub-constituency on salient issues. In addition, legislators’ roll calls are more likely to be congruent with the opinion of a majority of their partisans on the most salient issues. Taken together, these findings suggest that increasing the salience of issues to the mass public is not a panacea for improving democratic performance in Congress. In fact, the ideological extremes in American politics appear to be even more powerful on the most salient issues.
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