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Ideological Hedging in Uncertain Times: Inconsistent Legislative Representation and Voter Enfranchisement

Abstract

Can ideological inconsistency in legislators’ voting records be explained by uncertainty about constituent preferences? Do legislators ‘hedge their bets’ ideologically when faced with constituency uncertainty? This article presents an uncertainty-based theory of ideological hedging. Legislators faced with uncertainty about their constituent preferences have an incentive to present ideologically inconsistent roll-call records. Legislators experiment with a variety of roll-call positions in order to learn the preferences of their constituents. An examination of US senators during 1961–2004 shows that uncertainty due to black enfranchisement and mobilization led to higher ideological inconsistency in legislative voting records. Ideologically inconsistent behaviour by elected officials can be characterized as best responses to a changing and uncertain environment. These results have implications for representation and the stability of democracy.

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Kevin M. Esterling , The Political Economy of Expertise (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004)

Christian R. Grose , Congress in Black and White (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011)

John Kingdon , Congressmen's Voting Decisions, 3rd edn (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989)

Tracy Sulkin , Issue Politics in Congress (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Melvin J. Hinich and Michael C. Munger , Analytical Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 119

Peter J. Coughlin , Probabilistic Voting Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 1920

Byron E. Shafer and Richard Johnston , The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006)

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
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