, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 289-308

Justifying controversial political decisions:Home style in the laboratory

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Elected officials are not passive bystanders in the electoral process. Rather, they try to influence their constituents' perceptions of events through a variety of strategies, including explanations. Fenno's case studies reported inHome Style (1978) have yielded important insights into the explanations representatives provide to their constituents to account for unpopular or controversial decisions. This paper reports an experimental analysis of the effectiveness of two principled justifications taken from Fenno'sHome Style interviews: individualistic and communitarian appeals to conscience. We also present a theoretical framework for the anlaysis of political accounts, conceptualizing them as a type of persuasive communication. The impact of the two justifications on a number of important judgments is examined within this framework, including reactions to controversial policies, attributions of responsibility, perceptions of political character, and evaluations of public officials.