Citizens in a democracy expect that elected officials will be responsive to their political opinions and govern in an effective way that improves their quality of life. However, a government that is too responsive to public sentiments may, in practice, be unable to govern effectively and promote societal well-being. This paper is the first attempt to date to empirically evaluate this important potential tradeoff. Using newly developed measures of public opinion and public policy liberalism in the American states over time (Caughey and Warshaw 2018) and a diverse battery of societal outcomes (Dynes and Holbein 2020) as well as multiple estimation strategies and timeframes, I find a weak and inconsistent statistical relationship between policy responsiveness and government effectiveness. These findings have significant normative and theoretical implications because they suggest there is not a tradeoff between a government responding to its citizens’ opinions and it governing effectively by promoting citizens’ well-being.
This paper investigates what proportion of voters select their candidate based on policy proximity in a spatial voting framework and evaluates how important policy proximity is for vote choices. We develop a novel procedure to identify ideological voting and directly estimate the weights of policies from vote choices. Using the American National Election Studies (ANES) for 1996-2008 and nationally representative replication data from Leeper and Robison’s (2020) survey experiments, we find that more than 80% of voters choose the most ideologically proximate candidate. Among these ideological voters, we find that a one standard deviation change in relative proximity for an extremely important issue has a similar substantive effect on vote choice as partisan identification (moving from Independent to a Not Very Strong Democrat or Republican). Together, these findings suggest that policy positions and issue importance influence citizens’ vote choices even after controlling for party identification and demographic characteristics.
We investigate the effects of states’ labor laws, which enhance or diminish the political power of organized labor, on government responsiveness to public opinion. Importantly, we separate out the effects of laws applying to public and private sector unions to study their distinct impacts. Drawing on newly developed measures of public opinion and policy liberalism in the states over time, we employ a difference-in-difference estimation strategy and find that states’ labor laws impact responsiveness in different ways. Specifically, states with “right-to-work” laws that broadly diminish private sector unions’ membership and political power adopt economic policies that are more conservative than public opinion would predict. By contrast, states with mandatory collective bargaining laws for public sector employees enact economic policies that are more liberal than public opinion predicts. In short, laws that weaken private sector unions allow economic policy to be pushed to the right, while laws that strengthen public sector unions allow it to be pushed to the left. These findings are consistent across a variety of different model specifications, timeframes, and measurement techniques. Our findings have important implications for understanding the effects of labor law and the power of organized labor on the functioning of American democracy.