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Activists and Economic Policymaking in Congress

Darrell M. West
American Journal of Political Science
Vol. 32, No. 3 (Aug., 1988), pp. 662-680
DOI: 10.2307/2111241
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2111241
Page Count: 19
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Activists and Economic Policymaking in Congress
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Abstract

This paper examines the role of activist opinion in congressional decision making on Reaganomics. Although several scholars have noted that legislators distinguish ordinary citizens from more informed activists having intense preferences within districts, empirical research has not incorporated this insight into the analysis. Using data that measure activist opinion on Reagan's 1981 economic program, member perceptions of their voting decisions, and a variety of other district and Washington factors, I demonstrate that even though many representatives believed they enacted Reaganomics because of policy sentiments within their districts, there is persuasive evidence indicating member partisanship and conservatism were more important than district factors. These contrasting conclusions about constituency effects, however, can be reconciled by showing that members did respond to district sentiments, but that they defined district opinion in terms of activist opinion. I conclude by noting the implications of these findings for congressional policymaking and democratic theory.

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