Political Representation Gaps in Europe
93 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2022 Last revised: 23 May 2023
Date Written: September 26, 2022
Do parliaments in representative democracies represent the policy attitudes of their voters? I examine this question using data on the policy attitudes of 2,074 parliamentarians and 31,461 citizens who are representative of 27 European countries. Parliamentarians are much more culturally liberal than voters in nearly all countries, while they tend to be more market-oriented than voters on economic issues. These attitude differences likely translate into deviations of policymaking from voters' attitudes because most parliamentarians state to decide according to their own attitudes. I verify that the actual decisions of parliamentarians deviate from voter attitudes by comparing voters' and parliamentarians' voting decisions in referendums. Lack of representation is associated with distrust in democratic institutions, vote abstention, and the ideological positioning of populist parties, which fill empty policy space. I show how these results help to understand the characteristics and rise of populism. Finally, I build a formal model to explain why voters elect parliaments who do not represent their attitudes.
Keywords: Representation, Populism, Political Trust, Democracy, Voting
JEL Classification: D72, D78, N44, P16
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation