The effect of political competition on democratic accountability

Abstract

Representing uncompetitive, homogeneous constituencies is increasingly the norm for American legislators. Extensive research has investigated how competition affects the way representatives respond to their constituents’ policy preferences. This paper explores competition’s effect on the other side of representation, how constituents respond to their legislators’ policy record. Combining multiple measures of state competitiveness with large-N survey data, I demonstrate that competition enhances democratic accountability. Voters in competitive states are more interested in politics, more aware of the policy positions their U.S. senators have taken, and more likely to hold them accountable for those positions at election time. Robustness checks show that these effects are not due to the intensity of campaigning in a state: general competition, not particular campaign activities, drives citizens’ response. The recent increase in uncompetitive constituencies has likely lessened the degree to which legislators are held accountable for their actions in office.

Publication
Political Behavior 35(3): 481-515
Philip Edward Jones
Philip Edward Jones
Associate Professor of Political Science
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