Rethinking Representation from a Communal Perspective
Most foundational theories of congressional representation were developed during an era of less polarized and less partisan politics. These theories viewed the incumbency advantage as buttressed by the fact that some constituents were willing to support legislators from the opposite party because of their “home styles.” But in an era of policy immoderation in Congress, this perspective leads to an assumption that citizens evaluate their members of Congress based on what those legislators do for them individually, rather than what they do for their districts more broadly. In this paper, we ask whether citizens take the interests of their fellow constituents into account when evaluating their members of Congress. Using both survey data and an experiment, we uncover support for the notion that citizens take a more communal view of representation as at least part of their evaluations of their representatives. This suggests individuals may have a more nuanced understanding of representation than purely self-interested approaches tend to assume.
KeywordsRepresentation Congress Experiment
We would like to thank Cameron Roche for his significant contributions to this project when it was in its early stages. We are also grateful to the American Politics Research Group at UMass, Thomas Wood, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback on the paper. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (Awards 1154420 and 1430473)
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