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Miller and Stokes: Constituency influence in Congress

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Miller and Stokes. 1963. Constituency influence in Congress. APSR 57:45-57.

In Brief

There is a long-running debate whether members of Congress (MCs) should be Burkean trustees (make independent decisions on behalf of their constituents) or delegates (who vote the district's opinion, exercising no independent judgment). Using ANES data, the authors argue that representation styles differ depending on issue area.

  • On social issues, Democrats vote liberal while Republicans vote conservative. This implies a Burkean model.
  • But on civil rights, the delegate model was at play: Southerners vote one way, northerners another (regardless of party).
  • Finally, neither model held on foreign affairs, in which both parties ceded control to the executive.

In any policy area, however, voters tend to know very little about what their representative is actually doing.

Take home point: A MC's style of representation differs depending on the issue area.

Place in the Literature

See Weisberg et al. (1999) for a topic overview in the context of other research.

For another view of representation, see Fenno (1978).

Methodology

The authors survey MCs and compare this with ANES data about their constituents. Miller and Stokes have been criticized for this methodology, however, since ANES data frequently has fewer than twenty respondents per district, which is too few to make valid inferences.