A Policy Approach to Political Representation: Lessons from the Four Corners States

By Helen M. Ingram; Nancy K. Laney et al. | Go to book overview

8
Potential responsiveness: its promise and limits

Policy has ordinarily not been an important variable in representation research. Because voters do not have detailed knowledge of issue areas, and because they generally lack comprehensive liberal versus conservative belief systems that orient their understanding of problems, studies have divorced public opinion from public policy. This study has established that issue areas are an important variable in the process of representation.

Further, much of the literature on state legislatures, and the folk wisdom about the Four Corners state legislatures in particular, suggests that they cannot be responsive. The accepted view is that these legislatures attract members who are highly atypical of voters at large and see different problems as important. Inadequate salary, staff, time, and dedication among citizen legislators is believed to result in unresponsiveness. Operating outside the public spotlight, legislators are thought to be dominated by narrow private interests. The findings in our study, however, suggest a modification of this gloomy view. Employing a policy approach to representation, we have shown that Four Corners state legislators are potentially responsive to the public on issues within a number of important issue clusters.

In this chapter we will review the findings of our propositions about the relationship of public opinion to incentives for legislators' actions. We will also consider how the Four Comers state legislatures measure up

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