Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Who Gets Represented?

Who Gets Represented?

Peter K. Enns
Christopher Wlezien
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 388
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Who Gets Represented?
    Book Description:

    While it is often assumed that policymakers favor the interests of some citizens at the expense of others, it is not always evident when and how groups’ interests differ or what it means when they do. Who Gets Represented? challenges the usual assumption that the preferences of any one group—women, African Americans, or the middle class—are incompatible with the preferences of other groups. The book analyzes differences across income, education, racial, and partisan groups and investigates whether and how differences in group opinion matter with regard to political representation. Part I examines opinions among social and racial groups. Relying on an innovative matching technique, contributors Marisa Abrajano and Keith Poole link respondents in different surveys to show that racial and ethnic groups do not, as previously thought, predictably embrace similar attitudes about social welfare. Katherine Cramer Walsh finds that, although preferences on health care policy and government intervention are often surprisingly similar across class lines, different income groups can maintain the same policy preferences for different reasons. Part II turns to how group interests translate into policy outcomes, with a focus on differences in representation between income groups. James Druckman and Lawrence Jacobs analyze Ronald Reagan’s response to private polling data during his presidency and show how different electorally significant groups—Republicans, the wealthy, religious conservatives—wielded disproportionate influence on Reagan’s policy positions. Christopher Wlezien and Stuart Soroka show that politicians’ responsiveness to the preferences of constituents within different income groups can be surprisingly even-handed. Analyzing data from 1876 to the present, Wesley Hussey and John Zaller focus on the important role of political parties, vis-à-vis constituents’ preferences, for legislators’ behavior. Who Gets Represented? upends several long-held assumptions, among them the growing conventional wisdom that income plays in American politics and the assumption that certain groups will always—or will never—have common interests. Similarities among group opinions are as significant as differences for understanding political representation. Who Gets Represented? offers important and surprising answers to the question it raises.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-722-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Contributors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Group Opinion and the Study of Representation
    (pp. 1-26)
    Peter K. Enns and Christopher Wlezien

    We celebrate the principle of one person, one vote. Even though we have learned in recent years that counting ballots is not as straightforward as we might have thought, procedural equality remains an important standard in modern democracies. On election day, we expect all votes to count equally. Of course, we are not interested only in whether our votes count. We care about which parties and candidates win. We also care about what happens afterward, that is, what elected officials actually do once in office. Just because my vote is counted and my preference is heard—and even the fact...


    • Part I: Introduction
      (pp. 29-31)
      Peter K. Enns and Christopher Wlezien

      This book began with the observation that where preferences differ, all groups cannot have their preferences represented in policy. That is, not everyone’s policy preferences will win. Understanding group opinion—how it differs or agrees across various segments of society—thus provides an important first step toward understanding the nature of representation. To this end, chapter 1 looked at policy preferences by income, education, partisanship, and race. Although meaningful differences do exist, we also saw surprising similarities in group preferences. Where scholars have assumed unequal representation, group preferences often are indistinguishable. In such cases, policy cannot align with one group’s...

    • Chapter 2 Assessing the Ethnic and Racial Diversity of American Public Opinion
      (pp. 32-60)
      Marisa Abrajano and Keith T. Poole

      Researchers who are interested in understanding subgroup behavior typically face a series of trade-offs in their research design, most notably those pertaining to sample size and the types of questions available in public opinion surveys. Consider the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey, which is a companion to the 2000 survey conducted by the Annenberg team of scholars at the University of Pennsylvania (Romer et al. 2006). This survey is highly desirable for most social scientists because it contains more than 150 questions about individual political attitudes, behaviors, and perceptions. Moreover, because it interviews more than eighty thousand people, the number...

    • Chapter 3 United We Divide? Education, Income, and Heterogeneity in Mass Partisan Polarization
      (pp. 61-92)
      Christopher Ellis and Joseph Daniel Ura

      The resurgence of mass partisanship over the last half century is among the most important developments in modern American politics. Party elites have polarized on a variety of issues, and citizens have responded by becoming better able to understand party issue conflict, more likely to hold an affective commitment to one party over another, and more apt to structure their attitudes to reflect the issue structure of elite party conflict (for example, Hetherington 2001; Pomper and Weiner 2002). In the aggregate, the result is a mass party system that is more polarized on a variety of domains (Abramowitz and Saunders...

    • Chapter 4 The Political Geography of Party Resurgence
      (pp. 93-128)
      David A. Hopkins and Laura Stoker

      The growing electoral strength of American political parties is one of the most fruitful topics of recent empirical research. The phenomenon of increasing ideological polarization between Democratic and Republican elites, especially members of Congress, has long been acknowledged (for example, Rohde 1991; Poole and Rosenthal 2007). Mounting evidence also suggests that the growing divergence between party leaders on public policy matters over the past few decades has been increasingly echoed within the larger electorate, with a simultaneous rise in the rates at which party identifiers support their party’s nominees for office. Since the 1970s, more Americans have come to perceive...

    • Chapter 5 Get Government Out of It: Heterogeneity of Government Skepticism and Its Connection to Economic Interests and Policy Preferences
      (pp. 129-160)
      Katherine Cramer Walsh

      One of the key concerns of contributors to this volume is the extent to which political preferences vary across groups. There are many reasons, for example, to expect that low-income people hold different preferences than upper-income people (see chapter 1, this volume). The editors of this volume, however, through their review of the scholarship and their own analyses, show that the story is more complex.

      Unraveling the complexity requires investigating what people of different income levels mean by their survey responses. For example, when a low-income person and a high-income person both report that they believe that the government is...


    • Part II: Introduction
      (pp. 163-165)
      Peter K. Enns and Christopher Wlezien

      In the first half of this volume, we have seen repeated evidence that policy preferences often do not align as scholars of representation assume. Together, these chapters combine to offer an important lesson for the study of representation. When asking whose preferences policymakers represent, scholars must first consider what policies different constituent groups prefer. The chapters in part II offer a powerful response to this call. The complexity of group opinions depicted in the first half of the book informs the analytical decisions and the conclusions drawn in the following chapters. The authors pay careful attention to the measurement of...

    • Chapter 6 Segmented Representation: The Reagan White House and Disproportionate Responsiveness
      (pp. 166-188)
      James N. Druckman and Lawrence R. Jacobs

      The relationship between the government and the public is commonly used to characterize the nature of a political system. Populist theories of democracy define this relationship as the close association between the wishes and wants of the country’s citizens and the substantive policy decisions of elected government officials. Political representation also can be viewed in symbolic terms; kings, for instance, “stand for” the country (Pitkin 1967). American presidents are often said to “speak for the people.” Although political representation has been defined in quite different ways, nearly all portrayals share a focus on the government’s relationship with its citizenry. For...

    • Chapter 7 Whose Statehouse Democracy? Policy Responsiveness to Poor Versus Rich Constituents in Poor Versus Rich States
      (pp. 189-222)
      Elizabeth Rigby and Gerald C. Wright

      Policymaking in a representative democracy requires elected officials to align their policy priorities and choices with the preferences of their constituents. Efforts to test this normative assumption have often identified a strong relationship between average public opinion (or changes in average public opinion) and the political behavior of elected representatives (Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson 2002; Erikson and Wright 1980, 2005; Erikson, Wright, and McIver 1993; Miller and Stokes 1963; Soroka and Wlezien 2010). Yet, because these studies tend to measure opinion in the aggregate, they do not test another normative foundation of representation: equality of political representation even in the...

    • Chapter 8 How Poorly Are the Poor Represented in the U.S. Senate?
      (pp. 223-246)
      Yosef Bhatti and Robert S. Erikson

      In his widely (and justly) acclaimed book,Unequal Democracy, Larry Bartels (2008) presents the case that the rich get more representation than the poor. Among other findings, we learn that Republican administrations serve to advance income inequality rather than to retard it. We also learn that Republicans are capable of fooling voters, though not for the reasons that Thomas Frank (2004) offers inWhat’s the Matter with Kansas? Among the most provocative findings is that when it comes to representation in the U.S. Senate (as measured by roll-call voting), the poor—unlike the well-to-do—get virtually no representation. That is,...

    • Chapter 9 Policy Consequences of Representational Inequality
      (pp. 247-284)
      Martin Gilens

      Observers of American government have long disagreed over how much influence citizens have over public policy. Some view American democracy as little more than a sham in which elections provide legitimacy for a government ruled by a small elite. Others see elected officials as acutely responsive to the changing preferences of their constituents. But even the most sanguine observers acknowledge that not all citizens have equal sway over government policy.

      Recently, empirical studies have sought to appraise the extent of inequality in the link between public preferences and government policy. Not surprisingly, these studies find that affluent Americans are consider...

    • Chapter 10 Inequality in Policy Responsiveness?
      (pp. 285-310)
      Christopher Wlezien and Stuart N. Soroka

      Alarge body of empirical work demonstrates a correspondence between public opinion and policy behavior, in the United States and elsewhere.¹ The research almost exclusively presumes that policymakers represent the average person. That is, scholars typically produce some measure of the central tendency of opinion in a population and assess whether the average opinion and policy behavior match up at particular points in time, or whether they change together over time.

      This previous research is important but may not accurately depict the process. That is, it may be that politicians do not represent the average person. A long line of theory...

    • Chapter 11 Who Do Parties Represent?
      (pp. 311-344)
      Wesley Hussey and John Zaller

      Political parties are the unwanted stepchild of American democracy. The Founding Fathers feared them and designed the Constitution to defeat “the mischiefs of faction.” Generations of reformers have passed laws aimed at hobbling them. Americans regularly express disapproval of them in polls. Yet parties thrive. They develop their own agendas, nominate candidates loyal to these agendas, and dominate the outcomes of state and federal elections. By these means, parties make themselves central players in the process of political representation.

      This chapter aims to show how parties behave in this role. We argue that parties are more responsive to their own...


    • Chapter 12 The Issues in Representation
      (pp. 347-360)
      James A. Stimson

      Who gets represented? This volume, like the volleys in a tennis match, has seen that issue swatted back and forth in a series of chapters that never stray far from asking the central question. Is representation pretty much equal? Or do some Americans—often richer Americans—command more than their fair share of attention in the policy process? No one asserts a third alternative, like the antiunion rhetoric of an earlier era, that the poor command more attention than they proportionally deserve. But between the two primary positions it is hard to imagine that objective research could produce such discrepant...

  9. Epilogue Final Thoughts on Who Gets Represented
    (pp. 361-362)
    Peter K. Enns and Christopher Wlezien

    In politics, when preferences diverge, some win and some lose. Who are the winners in U.S. politics? An increasing body of literature answers “the rich” (Bartels 2008; Gilens 2005; Jacobs and Skocpol 2005). Indeed, after four decades of rising inequality and income imbalances not seen since the Gilded Age (Danziger and Gottschalk 1995; Ryscavage 1999; Pikkety and Saez 2006, 2007; Bartels 2008; Hungerford 2008; Kelly 2009), it seems the rich must be getting their way. As Larry Bartels concludes, “our political system seems to be functioning not as a ‘democracy’ but as an ‘oligarchy.’ If we insist on flattering ourselves...

  10. Index
    (pp. 363-376)