Bias in Perceptions of Public Opinion Among American Political Elites
Forthcoming in American Political Science Review
98 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2017 Last revised: 3 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 3, 2017
The conservative asymmetry of elite polarization represents a significant puzzle. We argue that politicians can maintain systematic misperceptions of constituency opinion that may contribute to breakdowns in dyadic representation. We demonstrate this argument with original surveys of 3,765 politicians' perceptions of constituency opinion on nine issues. In 2012 and 2014, state legislative politicians from both parties dramatically overestimated their constituents' support for conservative policies on these issues, a pattern consistent across methods, districts, and states. Republicans drive much of this overestimation. Exploiting responses from politicians in the same district, we confirm these partisan differences within individual districts. Further evidence suggests that this overestimation may arise due to biases in who contacts politicians, as in recent years Republican citizens have been especially likely to contact legislators, especially fellow Republicans. Our findings suggest a novel force can operate in elections and in legislatures: politicians can systematically misperceive what their constituents want.
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