Skip to main content Accessibility help

On the Limits to Inequality in Representation

  • Stuart N. Soroka (a1) and Christopher Wlezien (a2)


The correspondence between public preferences and public policy is a critical rationale for representative democratic government. This view has been put forward in the theoretical literature on democracy and representation (e.g., Dahl 1971; Pitkin 1967; Birch 1971) and in “functional” theories of democratic politics (Easton 1965; Deutsch 1963), both of which emphasize the importance of popular control of policymaking institutions. Political science research also shows a good amount of correspondence between opinion and policy, though to varying degrees, across a range of policy domains and political institutions in the U.S. and elsewhere. This is of obvious significance.Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the 2006 Annual Meetings of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, at the Elections, Public Opinion and Parties specialist group, Nottingham, England, and at the 2007 National Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago. We thank Vinod Menon for assistance with data collection and Kevin Arceneaux, Suzie DeBoef, Harold Clarke, Peter Enns, Mark Franklin, Martin Gilens, John Griffin, Will Jennings, Rich Joslyn, Benjamin Page, David Sanders, David Weakliem, John Zaller, and the anonymous reviewers for comments.



Hide All


Althaus, Scott L. 2003. Collective Preferences in Democratic Politics: Opinion Surveys and the Will of the People. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bartels, Larry M. 2005. “Economic Inequality and Political Representation.” Unpublished manuscript. Princeton University.
Bartels, Larry M. 2006. “Is the Water Rising? Reflections on Inequality and American Democracy.” PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January): 3942.
Beitz, Charles. 1990. Political Equality: An Essay in Democratic Theory. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Berinsky, Adam J. 2004. Silent Voices: Public Opinion and Political Participation in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Birch, Anthony. 1971. Representation. New York: Praeger.
Brehm, John. 1993. The Phantom Respondents: Opinion Surveys and Political Representation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Brooks, Clem, and Jeff Manza. 2006. “Social Policy Responsiveness in Advanced Democracies.” American Sociological Review 71: 47494.
Brooks, J. E. 1987. “The Opinion-Policy Nexus in France: Do Institutions and Ideology Make a Difference?Journal of Politics 49: 46580.
Burstein, Paul. 1998. “Bringing the Public Back in.” Social Forces 77: 2762.
Converse, Philip. 1962. “Information Flow and the Stability of Partisan Attitudes.” Public Opinion Quarterly 26: 57899.
Dahl, Robert A. 1956. A Preface to Democratic Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Dahl, Robert A. 1971. Polyarchy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Deutsch, Karl. 1963. Nerves of Government. New York: Free Press.
Easton, David. 1965. A Framework for Political Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Edelman, Murray. 1964. The Symbolic Uses of Politics. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Edelman, Murray. 1985. “Political Language and Political Reality.” PS: Political Science and Politics 18 (1): 109.
Enns, Peter K. 2006. “The Uniform Nature of Opinion Change.” Presented at the Annual Meeting of American Political Science Association, Philadelphia.
Erikson, Robert S., Gerald C. Wright, and John P. McIver. 1995. Statehouse Democracy. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Fenno, Richard F. Jr. 1978. Home Style: House Members in Their Districts. Boston: Little, Brown.
Gilens, Martin. 2004. “Public Opinion and Democratic Responsiveness: Who Gets What They Want From Government?Social Inequality Working Paper, Russell Sage Foundation.
Gilens, Martin. 2005. “Inequality and Democratic Responsiveness.” Public Opinion Quarterly 69: 77896.
Griffin, John D., and Brian Newman. 2005. “Are Voters Better Represented?Journal of Politics 67: 120627.
Herman, Edward S., and Noam Chomsky. 1988. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon.
Hill, Kim Quaile, and Patricia A. Hurley. 1998. “Dyadic Representation Reappraised.” American Journal of Political Science 43: 10937.
Hill, Kim Quaile, and Patricia A. Hurley. 2003. “Beyond the Demand-Input Model: A Theory of Representational Linkages.” Journal of Politics 65 (2): 30426.
Hobolt, Sara B., and Robert Klemmensen. 2005. “Responsive Government? Public Opinion and Government Preferences in Britain and Denmark.” Political Studies 53: 379402.
Hutchings, Vincent L. 2003. Public Opinion and Democratic Accountability: How Citizens Learn about Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jacobs, Lawrence R., and Benjamin I. Page. 2005. “Who Influences U.S. Foreign Policy?American Political Science Review 99: 10723.
Jacobs, Lawrence R., and Robert Y. Shapiro. 2000. Politicians Don't Pander: Political Manipulation and the Loss of Democratic Responsiveness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Manza, Jeff, and Fay Lomax Cook. 2002. “Policy Responsiveness to Public Opinion: The State of the Debate.” In Navigating Public Opinion: Polls, Policy, and the Future of American Democracy, eds. Jeff Manza, Fay Lomax Cook, and Benjamin I. Page. New York: Oxford University Press.
McCrone, Donald J., and James H. Kuklinski. 1979. “The Delegate Theory of Representation.” American Journal of Political Science 23: 278300.
Miller, Warren E., and Donald E. Stokes. 1963. “Constituency Influence in Congress.” American Political Science Review 57: 4556.
Monroe, Alan. 1979. “Consistency between Constituency Preferences and National Policy Decisions.” American Politics Quarterly 12: 319.
Page, Benjamin I., and Robert Y. Shapiro. 1992. The Rational Public. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Petry, F. 1999. “The Opinion-Policy Relationship in Canada.” Journal of Politics 61: 54050.
Pitkin, Hanna Fenichel. 1967. The Concept of Representation. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Schumaker, Paul D., and Russell W. Getter. 1977. “Responsiveness Bias in 51 American Communities.” American Journal of Political Science 21 (42): 24781.
Soroka, Stuart N., and Christopher Wlezien. 2004. “Opinion Representation and Policy Feedback: Canada in Comparative Perspective.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 37: 53159.
Soroka, Stuart N., and Christopher Wlezien. 2005. “Opinion-Policy Dynamics: Public Preferences and Public Expenditure in the United Kingdom.” British Journal of Political Science 35: 66589.
Stimson, James A., Michael B. MacKuen, and Robert S. Erikson. 1995. “Dynamic Representation.” American Political Science Review 89: 54365.
Ura, Joseph, and Christopher Ellis. N.d.Income, Preferences, and the Dynamics of Policy Responsiveness.” PS: Political Science and Politics. Forthcoming.
Weakliem, David. 2003. “Public Opinion Research and Political Sociology.” Research in Political Sociology 12: 4980.
Weaver, R. Kent, Robert Y. Shapiro, and Lawrence R. Jacobs. 1995. “Trends: Welfare.” Public Opinion Quarterly 59: 60627.
Weissberg, Robert. 1976. Public Opinion and Popular Government. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Wlezien, Christopher. 1995. “The Public as Thermostat: Dynamics of Preferences for Spending.” American Journal of Political Science 39: 9811000.
Wlezien, Christopher. 1996. “Dynamics of Representation: The Case of U.S. Spending on Defense.” British Journal of Political Science 26: 81103.
Wlezien, Christopher. 2004. “Patterns of Representation: Dynamics of Public Preferences and Policy.” Journal of Politics 66: 124.


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed