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The Power of the People

Congressional Competition, Public Attention, and Voter Retribution

Sean M. Theriault

This book argues that the people play a vital role in controlling the actions of their representatives in Congress. In examining issues that divide constituent opinion from representatives’ desires, it finds that when the public is paying attention, members usually act against their own material interests. On those occasions when members do not heed the public’s warnings, they suffer an electoral punishment in their next election. These results suggest that, contrary to many congressional critics, democratic accountability has been, and continues to be, alive and well in America.

In examining a unique set of issues that divide the public’s preferences from the interests of members of Congress—civil service reform, congressional pay, campaign finance reform, and term limits—The Power of the People finds that members of Congress whose hold on their seats are most tenuous are the most likely to forsake their personal desires to cast their lot with their constituents. The relationship is especially strong when the congressional actions garner media attention. Although rare, members of Congress have lost their seat for not following their constituents’ wishes on these issues.

Sean M. Theriault is assistant professor in the department of government, University of Texas at Austin.

Jun 2005
Political Science/Government/Legislative Branch
248 pp. 6x9 11 illus.

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