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Representation in an Era of Political and Economic Inequality: How and When Citizen Engagement Matters

  • Jan E. Leighley and Jennifer Oser

Does political participation make a difference for policy responsiveness, or is affluence what matters most? To examine whether participation beyond voting matters for policy representation, we analyze congruence between citizens’ policy preferences and their representatives’ roll call votes using data from the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. For the main policy issue for which citizens’ political engagement beyond voting enhances congruence—namely, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010—we then investigate whether this effect holds when taking citizens’ income into account. The findings show that for the ACA, constituents’ participation beyond voting is associated with increased congruence with their representatives at all levels of income, and that those with less income who are politically active beyond voting experience the largest increase in congruence. However, our findings also show that the potential of political participation and income to enhance congruence is restricted to co-partisans, and to highly partisan and salient issues.

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