American Political Science Review


Dynamic Representation

James A. Stimsona1, Michael B. Mackuena2 and Robert S. Eriksona3

a1 University of Minnesota

a2 University of Missouri, St. Louis

a3 University of Houston


If public opinion changes and then public policy responds, this is dynamic representation. Public opinion is the global policy preference of the American electorate. Policy is a diverse set of acts of elected and unelected officials. Two mechanisms of policy responsiveness are (1) elections change the government's political composition, which is then reflected in new policy and (2) policymakers calculate future (mainly electoral) implications of current public views and act accordingly (rational anticipation). We develop multiple indicators of policy activity for the House, Senate, presidency, and Supreme Court, then model policy liberalism as a joint function of the two mechanisms. For each institution separately, and also in a global analysis of “government as a whole,” we find that policy responds dynamically to public opinion change. This responsiveness varies by institution, both in level and in mechanism, as would be expected from constitutional design.

James A. Stimson is Arleen Carlson Professor of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455.

Michael B. MacKuen is Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO 63121–4499.

Robert S. Erikson is Distinguished University Professor of Political Science, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204.