How to Represent: The Role of Perceptions, Cognitive Biases, and Information on Elite Responsiveness
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation studies the links between voters and their representatives in Western Europe. Each chapter explores specific mechanisms through which politicians build their image of the electorate and translate this image into policy. In the first main chapter, I study why politicians misperceive voter preferences and how to overcome distorted beliefs about the electorate. I argue that elite misperceptions result from inequalities in exposure to voters and egocentric biases of politicians. I find support for these arguments in a panel of Swedish MPs covering two decades. In turn, a novel experiment leveraging real political events in Switzerland shows how encouraging Swiss legislators to have a more balanced exposure to voters can reduce misperceptions. In the next chapter, I explore the ability of politicians to channel voter preferences. I advance that policy expertise -- by inducing overconfidence -- leads representatives to dismiss opinions they disagree with. Consistent with this argument, I provide experimental evidence that Swedish representatives with more expertise in a given policy area are paradoxically less capable of voicing public preferences in that field. The two subsequent chapters study how political elites respond to voter signals on the campaign trail, leveraging a dataset of campaign statements by 68 European parties. The first study shows how party leaders update their rhetoric in response to opinion polls. The results reveal that mainstream parties deviate from their manifestos and emphasize more extreme positions when underperforming in the polls. The second study shows how pre-election polls are also used as mobilization devices, with politicians raising attention to promising polls while downplaying studies with disappointing results. Overall, the dissertation highlights the constraints faced by elected officials to act as representatives, and the role of public opinion information on policy responsiveness.
Chair and Committee
Matthew Gabel, Michael Bechtel, Jacob Montgomery,
Pereira, Miguel Maria, "How to Represent: The Role of Perceptions, Cognitive Biases, and Information on Elite Responsiveness" (2020). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2230.