Online Responsiveness: Legislative Websites and the Dimensions of Political Representation
60 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 4 Jul 2014
Date Written: 2012
Scholars of American politics typically conceptualize representation narrowly as mass-elite policy congruence, with many studies identifying factors that hinder the relationship. These findings are at odds with the high re-election rates often observed in American legislatures. I present an explanation for this puzzle by showing that policy is only one of several dimensions through which legislators provide representation, and thus earn support. I unify policy, service, allocation, and descriptive representation in a single theoretical model of legislators’ priorities, then test it with data coded from the content of 510 state legislators’ websites. I posit that, given the constraints of resources and costs, legislators systematically emphasize some dimensions over others to further the goal of re-election. Results provide support; factors that alter resources, costs, and benefits — legislative institutions, district demand, and individual traits — structure legislators’ strategic representational priorities. I conclude by discussing the implications of these results for assessments of inequality in American political representation.
Keywords: Representation, Policy congruence, Constituent service, Allocation, Descriptive representation, State legislators, Representational inequality
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