Voters may not know the details of specific policies, but they have a general sense of how well Congress serves their own interests and how closely politicians pay attention to public approval ratings. David Jones and Monika McDermott show, through new empirical analysis, that both politicians and voters take a hand in reconfiguring the House and Senate when the majority party is unpopular, as was the case during the 2008 elections. Candidates who continue to run under the party banner distance themselves from party ideology, while voters throw hard-line party members out of office. In this way, public approval and democratic responsibility directly affect policy shifts and turnovers at election time. Contrary to the common view of Congress as an insulated institution, Congress is indeed responsive to the people of the United States.
"Jones and McDermott's groundbreaking book makes a strong case for the proposition that the popular standing of Congress (not merely that of its individual members) influences voters' decisions. Voters enforce collective responsibility, they contend, and Congress takes notice. This will be an important read for all students of Congress and congressional elections."
—Gary C. Jacobson, Professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego
"Jones and McDermott have set a new standard for empirical analyses of responsiveness and representation in contemporary American politics. They frame the important substantive and normative questions, highlight the problems that have bedeviled previous work, and combine disparate data sets and sophisticated analytic techniques to develop new and important findings about the relationship between citizen preferences, legislator actions, and government policies. It is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the nature of citizen-representative linkages under real-world conditions."
—William Bianco, Professor of Political Science, Indiana University
"This book engages important questions related to congressional elections with new theoretical arguments and new data. It comes to conclusions that are contrary to widely accepted views in the literature, arguing that the public cares politically about the policies produced by Congress, that voters are able to have a reasonable amount of information about what Congress does in this realm, and that voters' perceptions on these matters have important electoral consequences. I think this book will be widely read and cited, and that it will have an impact on the scholarly debates about elections and polarization."
—David W. Rohde, Professor of Political Science, Duke University
"Americans, Congress, and Democratic Responsiveness is an interesting book with important and compelling results. Jones and McDermott restore meaning to democratic responsibility by finding that public evaluations affect Congress. In contrast to the popular depiction of the representatives controlling the represented rampant in the political science literature, Jones and McDermott show that the people are in control, determining not only the direction of policy in Congress, but also who stays, who retires, and who faces difficult reelection efforts. This book makes an important correction to our understanding of how Congress operates."
—Sean M. Theriault, Associate Professor, Department of Government, the University of Texas at Austin
Jacket photograph: iStockphoto.com © Slowgogo
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Read: Blog What's the matter with Congress? | 8/17/2011
Read: Symposium "The Salience of the Democratic Congress and the 2010 Elections" | PS: Political Science & Politics 44 (subscription required)
Read: Blog What People Know | 8/19/2009