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Do Legislator Positions Affect Constituent Voting Decisions in U.S. House Elections?

March 5, 2018 @ 12:00 am

Do Legislator Positions Affect Constituent Voting Decisions in U.S. House Elections?

DateMarch 3, 2014

Time4:00am to 5:30am

Location
4357 Bunche Hall

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The theory of spatial voting has dominated recent scholarship on voting and elections. The spatial voting theory’s most important implication is that candidates’ ideological positions should influence voters’ decisions at the ballot box. However, existing evidence shows a weak electoral connection between legislators and their constituents. We explain this puzzle using a new dataset with the policy ideal points and voting behavior of over 100,000 Americans. We show that the spatial positions of legislators in the House of Representatives have a negligible impact on the decisions of most voters. Our results suggest that incumbent legislators face few electoral consequences for ideologically extreme positions. Legislators can take any spatial position that their partisan colleagues take with little electoral penalty in general elections. This paper provides an individual-level explanation for the lack of accountability we observe in the contemporary Congress, a phenomenon that political science theory has had little success in explaining.

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