Process Approval and Democratic Legitimacy:
How Americans Want Their Elected Representatives to Decide How to Vote
Trust in the institutions of governance is a fundamental element of democratic legitimacy, and contemporary dissatisfaction with such institutions might be a function of perceived gridlock and/or discontent with the nature of laws that have been passed. This paper explores a third possible explanation: public disapproval of the process by which elected officials design their policy-making actions. Two surveys of nationally representative samples of adults (in 2015 and 2017) revealed that Americans want Congressional representatives to make voting decisions by paying the most attention to the preferences of the general public and of the people who feel strongly about the issue.
In contrast, Americans perceive that representatives pay the most attention to the preferences of their supporters and campaign donors and economic elites. Republican and Democratic citizens both perceive the same divergence between desires and reality, and this divergence is partly responsible for public dissatisfaction with Congress, with the U.S. government more generally, and with other democracies. An experiment embedded in a national survey demonstrated how explaining the reasons for their voting decisions may be a way for legislators to improve the public’s perceptions of the legitimacy of government.
The article was published in: website Political Psychology Research Group (PPRG), 2018
This work was supported (in part) by the Fetzer Franklin Fund of the John E. Fetzer Memorial Trust.