Perspectives on Politics

Presidential Address

Representation in Context: Election Laws and Ideological Congruence Between Citizens and Governments

G. Bingham Powell Jr.

Political Science Department, University of Rochester. E-mail:


Democratic theory assumes that successful democratic representation will create close ideological congruence between citizens and their governments. The success of different types of election rules in creating such congruence is an ongoing target of political science research. As often in political science, a widely demonstrated empirical finding, the greater congruence associated with proportional representation election rules, has ceased to hold. I suggest that systematically taking account in our theories of conditional effects of local context can often provide a remedy. The systematic incorporation of levels of political party polarization into theory of election laws and ideological congruence extended the temporal and spatial range of the theory. Data from the Comparative Manifesto research program and the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) research program are used to test the revised theory empirically. Suggestions for generalizing our theories of political context are offered. The results of this research continue the interactions between substantive research, ongoing political events, and the great normative issues of representation and democracy.

G. Bingham Powell, Jr. is Marie C. and Joseph C. Wilson Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of Rochester ( His most recent book is Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions (Yale University Press, 2000.)


  The author thanks Shin-Goo Kang and Chitralekha Basu for their invaluable assistance in preparation of the data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems project.