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Effects of Local News on Political Representation
Unformatted Document Text:  1 Local News and Political Accountability in U.S. Legislative elections* Marty Cohen, Hans Noel, John Zaller UCLA In standard accounts of democracy, elections force office holders to be accountable to the citizenry. Yet, most congressional elections in the United States are non-competitive and, by outward appearances, useless as enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, even in the handful that are competitive or lack an incumbent, the majority of voters are ignorant of the records of the candidates they must choose between. Many do not even know their names. Is Congress likely to remain responsive to the popular will under these conditions? Many say yes. Members of Congress, as has been argued, appear free from electoral challenge only because they work so hard at pleasing their constituents; if they were to let up, they would be in electoral trouble in a hurry (Mayhew, 1974, p. 37; Mann, 1978; Fiorina, 1981). Another important argument is that congressional parties burnish reputations for solving national problems; without knowing very much about individual MCs, voters can alter the balance between the parties in marginal elections and thereby hold Congress accountable (Cox and McCubbins, 1990; McCubbins and Kiewiet, 1991). A final line of reasoning is that interest groups closely monitor congressional behavior and can stir up group members when need arises; knowing this, MCs stay in line with district opinion (Hutchings, 2003). These are strong arguments and no doubt explain much Congressional behavior. Yet they could easily explain too much. Are there really no important costs from the infrequency of contested elections and the nearly total ignorance of many voters? Might not lack of manifest electoral pressure create slack that MCs exploit? Might not MCs become responsive to interest groups, campaign donors, and political activists who pay more attention to their behavior than voters and have preferences different from those of voters? ____________________________ * Prepared for presentation at the 2004 annual meetings of the American Political Science Association. We thank Douglas Rivers, Don Green, Alan Gerber, John Hibbing and Patricia Hurley for helpful comments. Data analysis and cross-checking are still in progress, so please check with authors before citing. The paper has been modestly revised since the conference.

Authors: Cohen, Marty., Noel, Hans. and Zaller, John.
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1
Local News and Political Accountability
in U.S. Legislative elections*


Marty Cohen, Hans Noel, John Zaller
UCLA






In standard accounts of democracy, elections force office holders to be accountable to the
citizenry. Yet, most congressional elections in the United States are non-competitive
and, by outward appearances, useless as enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, even in
the handful that are competitive or lack an incumbent, the majority of voters are ignorant
of the records of the candidates they must choose between. Many do not even know their
names. Is Congress likely to remain responsive to the popular will under these
conditions?

Many say yes. Members of Congress, as has been argued, appear free from electoral
challenge only because they work so hard at pleasing their constituents; if they were to let
up, they would be in electoral trouble in a hurry (Mayhew, 1974, p. 37; Mann, 1978;
Fiorina, 1981). Another important argument is that congressional parties burnish
reputations for solving national problems; without knowing very much about individual
MCs, voters can alter the balance between the parties in marginal elections and thereby
hold Congress accountable (Cox and McCubbins, 1990; McCubbins and Kiewiet, 1991).
A final line of reasoning is that interest groups closely monitor congressional behavior
and can stir up group members when need arises; knowing this, MCs stay in line with
district opinion (Hutchings, 2003).

These are strong arguments and no doubt explain much Congressional behavior. Yet they
could easily explain too much. Are there really no important costs from the infrequency
of contested elections and the nearly total ignorance of many voters? Might not lack of
manifest electoral pressure create slack that MCs exploit? Might not MCs become
responsive to interest groups, campaign donors, and political activists who pay more
attention to their behavior than voters and have preferences different from those of
voters?

____________________________
* Prepared for presentation at the 2004 annual meetings of the American Political Science
Association. We thank Douglas Rivers, Don Green, Alan Gerber, John Hibbing and Patricia
Hurley for helpful comments. Data analysis and cross-checking are still in progress, so please
check with authors before citing. The paper has been modestly revised since the conference.


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