Title of Presentation or Performance

The Responsible Voter: A study of the Representative Accuracy of the 116th Congress

Major

Political Science

Type of Submission

Oral Presentation

Type of Submission (Archival)

Event

Area of Study or Work

Political Science

Expected Graduation Date

2022

Location

CNS E105

Start Date

4-9-2022 8:30 AM

End Date

4-9-2022 9:30 AM

Abstract

The American electorate’s growing frustration with Congress has led to approval ratings dipping below 35% in our current year. The leading explanations of this disapproval have focused on the rise of polarization, the power of special interest groups, allegiance to parties, and the poor quality of voter’s decision making. However, research has been unable to measure the extent to which these factors influence politics, or whether the two major political parties actually represent the constituents that voted for them. This paper takes up this question. Through an empirical analysis of three critical votes in the U.S. Senate, it tests three hypotheses: Congressional representatives do not vote according to the preferences of their constituents; representatives who receive more private funding represent their constituency less; and the more ideologically extreme a state is, the less representative their senators will be of their constituents. The paper analyzes the following three Senate votes in comparison to public opinion polls: the 2020 impeachment vote of Former President Donald Trump; the vote on retaining net neutrality regulations; and the vote on the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Bill. The analysis shows that, in these cases, senators' votes diverged in varying degrees from public preferences. Moreover, Republican senators' votes were more likely to diverge than those of Democratic senators. These findings suggest that members of Congress are influenced significantly by fear, either of punishment by party elites or of punishment by important financial donors. In some contexts, phenomena like political polarization and the influence of money compel representatives away from their constituencies and towards party-political imperatives and the power of lobbyists.

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Apr 9th, 8:30 AM Apr 9th, 9:30 AM

The Responsible Voter: A study of the Representative Accuracy of the 116th Congress

CNS E105

The American electorate’s growing frustration with Congress has led to approval ratings dipping below 35% in our current year. The leading explanations of this disapproval have focused on the rise of polarization, the power of special interest groups, allegiance to parties, and the poor quality of voter’s decision making. However, research has been unable to measure the extent to which these factors influence politics, or whether the two major political parties actually represent the constituents that voted for them. This paper takes up this question. Through an empirical analysis of three critical votes in the U.S. Senate, it tests three hypotheses: Congressional representatives do not vote according to the preferences of their constituents; representatives who receive more private funding represent their constituency less; and the more ideologically extreme a state is, the less representative their senators will be of their constituents. The paper analyzes the following three Senate votes in comparison to public opinion polls: the 2020 impeachment vote of Former President Donald Trump; the vote on retaining net neutrality regulations; and the vote on the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Bill. The analysis shows that, in these cases, senators' votes diverged in varying degrees from public preferences. Moreover, Republican senators' votes were more likely to diverge than those of Democratic senators. These findings suggest that members of Congress are influenced significantly by fear, either of punishment by party elites or of punishment by important financial donors. In some contexts, phenomena like political polarization and the influence of money compel representatives away from their constituencies and towards party-political imperatives and the power of lobbyists.