Political Behavior

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 481–515 | Cite as

The Effect of Political Competition on Democratic Accountability

  • Philip Edward JonesEmail author
Original Paper


Representing uncompetitive, homogeneous constituencies is increasingly the norm for American legislators. Extensive research has investigated how competition affects the way representatives respond to their constituents’ policy preferences. This paper explores competition’s effect on the other side of representation, how constituents respond to their legislators’ policy record. Combining multiple measures of state competitiveness with large-N survey data, I demonstrate that competition enhances democratic accountability. Voters in competitive states are more interested in politics, more aware of the policy positions their U.S. senators have taken, and more likely to hold them accountable for those positions at election time. Robustness checks show that these effects are not due to the intensity of campaigning in a state: general competition, not particular campaign activities, drives citizens’ response. The recent increase in uncompetitive constituencies has likely lessened the degree to which legislators are held accountable for their actions in office.


Accountability Competition Heterogeneity Representation 



I thank Steve Ansolabehere, Barry Burden, Claudine Gay, Jason Mycoff, Joe Pika, Meg Rithmire, Sid Verba, and in particular Ben Bishin for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. I am also grateful to the journal’s three anonymous reviewers who helped clarify and strengthen the argument substantially. All errors are, of course, my own.

Supplementary material

11109_2012_9203_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (77 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science and International RelationsUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA

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