“What Politicians Believe About Their Constituents: Asymmetric Misperceptions and Prospects for Constituency Control”

by Andrew Gelman on April 22, 2013 · 4 comments

in Legislative Politics,Methodology,Public opinion

Jeremy Fox points us to a paper by David Broockman and Christopher Skovron, who look at legislators’s perceptions of their constituents and compare to estimates of the the actual issue attitudes of people living in their districts. Broockman and Christopher Skovron find,

There is a striking conservative bias in politicians’ perceptions, particularly among conservatives: conservative politicians systematically believe their constituents are more conservative than they actually are by over 20 percentage points, while liberal politicians also typically overestimate their constituents’ conservatism by several percentage points. A follow-up survey demonstrates that politicians appear to learn nothing from democratic campaigns or elections that leads them to correct these shortcomings.

They conclude:

These findings suggest a substantial conserva- tive bias in American political representation and bleak prospects for constituency control of politicians when voters’ collective preferences are less than unambiguous.

I have not read the paper in detail, but I was happy to see that they have cool graphs and they use Mister P. So I like that.

{ 4 comments }

Navin Kumar April 22, 2013 at 11:48 am

Also haven’t read the paper, but the tone seems to be that the surveys got the stories right and the politicians misunderstand their constituents. Might not an alternative reading of the days be, the politicians are right about their constituents, and the surveys got it wrong, perhaps because the respondents represented themselves as more liberal than they are?

Navin Kumar April 22, 2013 at 11:49 am

*of the data

A April 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm

The paper is very interesting. The authors probably oversell the implications a bit, though. The electoral mechanism can still “work” even if legislators misperceive their constituents.

DrJim April 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm

My impression is that the authors are correct that constituents are more liberal than their representatives. The simplest explanation I can think of, which is also consistent with my experience, is that money talks – large donors are generally more conservative than average constituents and that’s who politicians represent. I’d like to see these results weighted by constituents’ wealth.

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