Representation and the War on Poverty
Authors:Crystal Marin,, Syndel Migliori,, Sylvia Rubio,
- Matt Cook, Associate Professor of Library, California State University Channel Islands
- Sean Kelly, Professor of Political Science, California State University Channel Islands
Two conceptions of representation dominate the study of legislator responsiveness in democratic systems. The “delegate model” holds that legislators are elected by their constituents to faithfully reflect constituents’ views when making legislative decisions. By contrast the “trustee model” suggests that members of Congress will exercise their judgment—independent of their constituents—when making legislative decisions. A rich political science literature has sought to determine which of these models provides a better model of legislative decision-making by members of Congress. Most studies have sought to find correlations between legislators’ votes and the opinions of their constituents across hundreds of legislators. A primary weakness of these studies is the fact that constituency-level survey data is based on only a few respondents in each district. This research uses a case study approach. Using the archived papers of a member of Congress from California—Harold “Bizz” Johnson (D-CA) who served in the House from 1959-1981—we seek to develop a richer understanding of the constituency-legislator linkage. Focusing on WAR ON POVERTY LEGISLATION (a high-salience policy issue) we examine the relationship between constituency opinion (as reflected in letters to the congressman) and his legislative behavior (as reflected in his votes and in his communication with the media and constituents via newsletters). We demonstrate that, at least in this case, a relationship between a member of Congress and his constituents transcends the two simple models that dominate political science research. Legislative behavior surrounding WAR ON POVERTY LEGISLATION involves a dialogue between the member and his constituents that reflects elements of both models of representation.