Words Speak Louder than Actions: Public Responsiveness to Elite Communication

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Authors Jon C. Rogowski, Andrew R. Stone
Journal/Conference Name POLITICAL BEHAVIOR
Paper Category
Paper Abstract Canonical theories posit that reelection-seeking legislators engage in advertising, position taking, and credit claiming, yet empirical studies reach largely mixed conclusions about the electoral returns from these behaviors. We argue that constituent evaluations are responsive to legislators’ self-presentations through official communications. By emphasizing some components of their records over others, legislators prime the considerations constituents use to evaluate them. We present evidence from two studies to show how this process shapes partisan evaluations of U.S. Senators. In the first, we show that partisanship increases in importance for Senators’ evaluations when Senators’ communications place greater emphasis on their policy positions. In the second, experimental results confirm the causal effects of elite rhetoric and reveal substantially greater partisan differences in evaluations of officeholders who highlight their policy positions. Our results demonstrate that voters are responsive to how officeholders present their records and have important implications for how political communication affects democratic representation.
Date of publication 2018
Code Programming Language R
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