Legislators or Delegates? Assessing Citizens' Stated and Revealed Preferences

Download data and study materials from OSF

Principal investigator:

David Doherty

Loyola University Chicago

Email: ddoherty@luc.edu

Homepage: http://orion.luc.edu/~ddoherty/

Sample size: 851

Field period: 8/15/2009-10/29/2009


I report findings from two experiments that examine citizens' preferences about whether members of Congress (MCs) should prioritize national or constituent opinion. Most people state an abstract preference for MCs who respond to national preferences. However, when presented with a concrete instance of this type of decision, people evaluate MCs who side with their district more favorably. This is true even for people who say MCs should \emph{always} side with the nation. I also find that people's own policy preferences are particularly consequential in their evaluations of their own MCs, while a representative's decision to side with constituents over the country is more important in evaluations of MCs from other districts. Overall, the findings improve our understanding of how people want the representation relationship to work and shed new light on people's tendency to like their own representatives but dislike MCs in general.


Do people apply their stated abstract preferences regarding whether representatives should respond to their districts' policy preferences or those of the nation when evaluating a concrete instance of a representative's behavior?
Do people hold their own representatives to different standards than representatives from other districts/states regarding this trade-off between local and national preferences?
How do people make inferences about what motivates representatives to side with district, rather than national preferences?

Experimental Manipulations

Nation and state public opinion conflict in all conditions. Randomized whether national opinion supported the policy and state opinion opposed or vice versa.
Randomized whether representative supported or opposed the bill.
Randomized whether the representative was presented as from the respondent's own state or from Missouri.


Evaluations of representative as a representative and as a person.
Evaluations of the importance of a series of motives in explaining the representative's decision.

Summary of Results

Although people tend to state a preference for representatives who respond to national rather than district preferences, when presented with a concrete instance of a representative prioritizing national opinion over district opinion, even those who say representatives should always side with the country evaluate the the representative less favorably. Additionally, whether people agree with the substance of the representative's policy position affects evaluations of the representative more strongly when he is presented as from the respondent's own state. In contrast, whether the representative sides with district or national preferences is more consequential when the representative is presented as from a different state.


Doherty, D. (2013). To Whom Do People Think Representatives Should Respond: Their District or the Country? Public Opinion Quarterly. doi:10.1093/poq/nfs052 (Link here)