The essence of democracy is popular sovereignty—the people rule. In the United States, the people rule indirectly by electing officials who they believe will best represent their values, aspirations, and interests. Between elections, many citizens continue to transmit their preferences by contacting elected officials, voting on referenda or initiatives, joining groups that will lobby on their behalf, talking to their friends and neighbors to sway public opinion, and expressing their opinions to journalists, pollsters, and anyone else who might convey their views to elected office holders. Although we do not expect elected officials to perfectly mirror the preferences of their constituents, a government that consistently ignores the preferences of citizens can hardly be called democratic. For any government—the federal government of the United States or of other nations, the various state governments, municipal governments, or school boards—we can ask how closely enacted public policies actually correspond to what the public prefers. The degree of correspondence is what political scientists refer to as policy responsiveness. In this book, we explore policy responsiveness in American school districts by looking at how much school boards spend on K–12 education and whether these spending policies comport with the preferences of the citizens who live in those districts.
Although topics come and go in political science, the study of policy responsiveness has been an exciting empirical enterprise for more than four decades. It remains a core concept because it lies at the intersection of so many different areas of study. For example, understand