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Journal Article

Citizens’ Policy Confidence and Electoral Punishment: A Neglected Dimension of Electoral Accountability

Alan S. Gerber, Gregory A. Huber, David Doherty and Conor M. Dowling
The Journal of Politics
Vol. 73, No. 4 (Oct. 4, 2011), pp. 1206-1224
DOI: 10.1017/s0022381611000892
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1017/s0022381611000892
Page Count: 19
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Citizens’ Policy Confidence and Electoral Punishment: A Neglected Dimension of Electoral Accountability
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Abstract

If voters punish elected officials who adopt incongruent policy positions, then representatives should take popular positions to avoid electoral sanction. Yet, scholars have noted gaps between citizen preferences and the behavior of elected officials. We argue that one important source of this gap is that individual citizens believe they are sometimes not well qualified to evaluate policy. Our analysis of a series of experiments shows that citizens’ stated confidence in their own ability to evaluate a policy proposal substantially affects their willingness to reward or punish a representative for their votes on that policy. Our results hold both across individuals (within policy areas) and within individuals (across policy areas) and suggest that, rather than a failure of representation, gaps between citizen preferences and policy may reflect citizen deference to “expert” legislators. We also show that understanding differences in policy confidence has important implications for understanding the contours of public opinion.

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