Gerber et al on Citizens’ Policy Confidence and Electoral Punishment (Journal of Politics)

A recent article, “Citizens’ Policy Confidence and Electoral Punishment: A Neglected Dimension of Electoral Accountability,” by Alan Gerber, Greg Huber, David Doherty (Loyola), and Conor Dowling was published in the October issue of the Journal of Politics.

Abstract: If voters punish elected officials who adopt incongruent policy positions, then representatives should take popular positions to avoid electoral sanction. Yet, scholars have noted gaps between citizen preferences and the behavior of elected officials. We argue that one important source of this gap is that individual citizens believe they are sometimes not well qualified to evaluate policy. Our analysis of a series of experiments shows that citizens’ stated confidence in their own ability to evaluate a policy proposal substantially affects their willingness to reward or punish a representative for their votes on that policy. Our results hold both across individuals (within policy areas) and within individuals (across policy areas) and suggest that, rather than a failure of representation, gaps between citizen preferences and policy may reflect citizen deference to “expert” legislators. We also show that understanding differences in policy confidence has important implications for understanding the contours of public opinion.