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The Impression of Influence

The Impression of Influence: Legislator Communication, Representation, and Democratic Accountability

Justin Grimmer
Sean J. Westwood
Solomon Messing
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qh10n
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  • Book Info
    The Impression of Influence
    Book Description:

    Constituents often fail to hold their representatives accountable for federal spending decisions-even though those very choices have a pervasive influence on American life. Why does this happen? Breaking new ground in the study of representation,The Impression of Influencedemonstrates how legislators skillfully inform constituents with strategic communication and how this facilitates or undermines accountability. Using a massive collection of Congressional texts and innovative experiments and methods, the book shows how legislators create an impression of influence through credit claiming messages.

    Anticipating constituents' reactions, legislators claim credit for programs that elicit a positive response, making constituents believe their legislator is effectively representing their district. This spurs legislators to create and defend projects popular with their constituents. Yet legislators claim credit for much more-they announce projects long before they begin, deceptively imply they deserve credit for expenditures they had little role in securing, and boast about minuscule projects. Unfortunately, legislators get away with seeking credit broadly because constituents evaluate the actions that are reported, rather than the size of the expenditures.

    The Impression of Influenceraises critical questions about how citizens hold their political representatives accountable and when deception is allowable in a democracy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5266-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER 1 Representation, Spending, and the Personal Vote
    (pp. 1-14)

    THIS IS A BOOK ABOUT HOW POLITICAL REPRESENTATION OCCURS on government spending decisions—one of the most consequential powers of government. The Constitution empowers Congress to “pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general welfare of the United States.” Federal spending has a pervasive influence—impacting nearly every aspect of American life. How Congress allocates money affects the quality of infrastructure in American cities, the availability of health care in rural towns, and the provision of affordable housing across the country. Spending helps guard against harm—helping local governments prepare for natural disasters, protect against crime and...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Solving the Representative’s Problem and Creating the Representative’s Opportunity
    (pp. 15-31)

    WHEN AT HOME IN THEIR DISTRICT, LEGISLATORS OFTEN USE their public appearances to announce new grants, or to celebrate the completion of spending projects. Consider, for example, Pete Visclosky (D-IN)—a long time Democratic incumbent from northwest Indiana. On November 11, 2011 Visclosky was in Gary, Indiana for a ribbon cutting ceremony for a bike trail along Lake Michigan’s southern shore. At the ceremony, Visclosky praised the trail as “a wise investment of our tax dollars—improving the quality of life and the health of everyone who lives in our communities,” an investment made possible with the help of an...

  8. CHAPTER 3 How Legislators Create an Impression of Influence
    (pp. 32-63)

    A LONG TIME DEMOCRATIC MEMBER OF CONGRESS, BART STUPAK HAS strong incentives to cultivate an impression of influence over spending. This is partly because of his district’s demographics. As industry has fled northern Michigan, Stupak’s working class district has become increasingly reliant on federal investments to sustain the few jobs that remain. It is also because Stupak represents a swing district: in 2000 and 2004 it voted for George W. Bush, but in 2008 the district narrowly swung to Barack Obama. To win reelection Stupak needs a personal vote—that is, support not based on partisan affiliation or ideological positions...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Creating an Impression, Not Just Increasing Name Recognition
    (pp. 64-80)

    THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER DEMONSTRATES HOW OFTEN LEGISLATORS use credit claiming statements to cultivate support and what legislators claim credit for delivering to (or requesting for) the district. This strategic credit claiming, we argue, helps legislators cultivate an impression of influence over expenditures and, in turn, build a personal vote with constituents. Before providing direct evidence of how constituents allocate credit in response to legislators’ credit claiming messages, we consider a simpler explanation for why legislators claim credit: to increase name recognition.

    Cain, Ferejohn, and Fiorina first demonstrated that incumbents have a substantial advantage in name recognition, an advantage that grew...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Cultivating an Impression of Influence with Actions and Small Expenditures
    (pp. 81-120)

    THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER SHOWS THAT WHEN LEGISLATORS CLAIM credit for spending they do more than simply bolster their name recognition. They cause constituents to perceive their representative as effective at delivering money to the district and this perception subsequently causes an increase in overall evaluations of the legislator. This result shows that credit claiming is an effective and distinct strategy for building support with constituents.

    This chapter uses a series of experiments and observational data to examine how constituents allocate credit in response to legislators’ credit claiming messages and to show how this response affects accountability. As we argued in...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Credit, Deception, and Institutional Design
    (pp. 121-147)

    OUR EVIDENCE THUS FAR SHOWS THAT CONSTITUENTS ARE responsive to the actions legislators claim credit for performing. Constituents evaluate projects based on who receives the money and who claims credit for the spending, but are much less responsive to the amount spent. In this chapter we show that the value of claiming credit for actions and the opportunity toimplyinfluence over expenditures helps explain a long standing puzzle in American political economy. Federal expenditures occur through a large number of federal programs, with each of the many programs administered by a small number of bureaucrats.¹ While this structure of...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Criticism and Credit: How Deficit Implications Undermine Credit Allocation
    (pp. 148-173)

    ON FEBRUARY 17, 2009 IN DENVER COLORADO, BARACK OBAMA signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a large-scale infusion of “stimulus” cash into the American economy, into law. At the ceremony, Obama declared that “The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that I will sign today . . . is the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history.” The massive stimulus spending was an attempt to stop the massive layoffs after the fiscal crises of late 2008, to allay growing fears about the economy, and to cease the momentum of the foreclosure crisis. As the law was signed, unemployment was...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Representation and the Impression of Influence
    (pp. 174-185)

    PETE VISCLOSKY (D-IN) EASILY WON REELECTION IN 2012, defeating an upstart Republican challenger. One newspaper editorial endorsed Visclosky because of his “excellent record of service to the district”¹ and because the spending he directed to the district “helped the region move forward in multiple ways.”² Visclosky had built a reputation as an effective advocate for the interests of his district—specifically, he had built an impression of influence over government expenditures. Visclosky directed spending to the district to cultivate this reputation. He also engaged in a sustained and public marketing campaign, to make certain constituents know that he was responsible...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Text as Data: Methods Appendix
    (pp. 186-188)

    IN THIS APPENDIX WE PROVIDE MORE DETAILS ABOUT HOW WE classify the nearly 170,000 House press releases that we use in this study as credit claiming or not. Our strategy will be to make use of recent Text as Data methods,¹ while also utilizing methods from other fields to improve upon the classification.

    As we discussed in Chapter 3, our goal is to provide a label for each of the press releases as claiming credit for spending or not. We begin with 800 triple-hand-coded documents, which we will use tosupervisestatistical models for text. To classify the texts we...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 189-202)
  16. Index
    (pp. 203-204)