The Delegate Paradox: Why Polarized Politicians Can Represent Citizens Best

Posted: 25 Apr 2017  

Douglas Ahler

Florida State University - Department of Political Science

David E. Broockman

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Date Written: May 15, 2017

Abstract

Many advocate political reforms intended to resolve apparent disjunctures between politicians’ ideologically polarized policy positions and citizens’ less-polarized policy preferences. We show these apparent disjunctures can arise even when politicians represent their constituencies well, and that resolving them would likely degrade representation. These counterintuitive results arise from a paradox whereby polarized politicians can best represent constituencies comprised of citizens with idiosyncratic preferences. We document this paradox among U.S. House Members, often criticized for excessive polarization. We show that if House Members represented their constituencies’ preferences as closely as possible, they would still appear polarized. Moreover, current Members nearly always represent their constituencies better than counterfactual less-polarized Members. A series of experiments confirms that even “moderate” citizens often prefer ostensibly polarized representatives to many less-polarized alternatives.

Suggested Citation

Ahler, Douglas and Broockman, David E., The Delegate Paradox: Why Polarized Politicians Can Represent Citizens Best (May 15, 2017). Forthcoming, Journal of Politics. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2958017

Douglas Ahler

Florida State University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Talahasse, FL 30306
United States

David E. Broockman (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Paper statistics

Downloads
215
Abstract Views
809