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Trust: Representatives and Constituents.

Democracy requires that constituents evaluate their representative's behavior. Such evaluations are necessary for the election of representatives responsible to constituent interests. These evaluations are complicated, however, by voters, ignorance of key elements of the political environment. For example, constituents may have limited information regarding the policies that best promote their interests. Constituents may also have little knowledge of the legislative process and, therefore, the relationship between their representative's legislative behavior (e.g., voting, coalition building, etc.) and the disposition of candidate policies. Such uncertainties can also give rise to trust - favorable assessments by constituents of their representatives that are independent of the representative,s voting behavior. In this interesting book, William T. Bianco explores the foundations of trust in the relationships between constituents and representatives and, along the way, contributes some novel interpretations and determinants of congressional voting behavior.

Bianco's chief theoretical insights are gained through the construction and analysis of a two-person, noncooperative game under incomplete information. The actors in this game are a constituent and his representative. The representative has superior information about the effects of some legislative proposal and the congruity of her interests with the constituent. The representative votes on the proposal and the constituent evaluates this behavior for electoral purposes. Trust, or voting leeway, occurs when the constituent gives a favorable evaluation to the representative (i.e. votes for reelection) regardless her voting behavior. The frequency of trust is shown to increase both with the degree of constituent uncertainty about the consequences of the legislative proposal and the prior likelihood of common interest between the constituent and his representative. Trust, then, is a predictable feature of the political environment engulfing the representative process.

Bianco explores the external validity of this leeway hypothesis by interviewing representatives regarding their behavior on two key votes in the 101st Congress: the Ethics Act of 1989 (a major feature of which was congressional pay raises) and the repeal of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act. In each case, the variable of interest is the representative's response to a question regarding the intensity of constituents, views on the vote; that is, were constituent opinions so developed that a representative voting at variance with these wishes would suffer a negative evaluation, or were constituents willing to trust the judgment of their elective representatives? Bianco then constructs a sequence of contingency tables to show that (1) trust (voting leeway) was an important element to the passage of at least one of these bills, (2) at least for nonmarginal legislators, personal characteristics (e.g., personal wealth, honoraria, and outside income) were correlates of trust, and (3) postvote explanations of votes inconsistent with voter opinion are made by representatives who report little voting leeway. Bianco interprets these findings as broadly consistent with the leeway hypothesis (and a corollary referred to as the explanation hypothesis) and as suggesting that far from being an overarching concept, trust between a representative and her constituents is context-specific and is built or dissipated one bill at a time.

There is much to recommend this book. Scholars of congressional voting behavior will value Bianco's attempts to place his findings and perspectives within the extant literature. Indeed, chapters 2 and 3 contain a broad and novel survey that makes Bianco's work fit quite productively within the literature. Scholars of positive and quantitative political theory will appreciate the marriage of a solid theoretical analysis with a descriptively rich empirical inquiry. In this regard, Bianco's analysis is firmly in the tradition of previous books in this interesting series published by the University of Michigan Press. This would be a stimulating book for a graduate seminar in congressional studies.

The chief weakness of the book is the empirical analysis in support of the theory. To be sure, there is nothing inherently limiting in either the use of survey-response techniques or the paucity of cases evaluated; both are longstanding traditions in the field of congressional studies. However, the presentation of the data compiled for each case is undeveloped. Why, for instance, is the data presented solely in standard contingency tables when multivariate statistical techniques appear appropriate (i.e., probit analyses)? Why not directly estimate the determinants of perceived trust as a function of the other variables introduced in the analysis and, in the process, gain an appreciation for the statistical validity of the relationships? Bianco might enhance the value of this evidence by subjecting it to more rigorous statistical methods.

As with any serious book, there are many nits to pick. Bianco's criticisms of the extant literature based on his analysis are, in my view, both too broad and undeveloped. For instance, Bianco cautions against the use of an induced ideal point (one based either on constituent characteristics or legislator preferences) as the sole predictor of legislator behavior (p. 91). Recall that one of Bianco's chief findings is that perceived trust also bears on voting behavior. Bianco's point, which is correct and well known is that given any fixed ideal point, a legislator's behavior (voting or otherwise) can be different depending on whether information is complete or incomplete. One thing we would like to know is how different these behaviors can be. How important is incomplete information for explaining variation in congressional voting behavior? Until this basic question is answered, criticisms of complete information models and methods based on the likelihood of incomplete information are statistically impotent.

Notwithstanding these criticisms, Bianco's research has value in its explicit development of an analysis of the relationship between a constituent and his representative. This relationship is tempered by the very real characteristics of the imperfect monitoring of representatives and incomplete information about policy outcomes. There is much more to be learned by further analyzing such models. Bianco's book is an important initial effort that contributes to our understanding of congressional voting behavior.
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Author:Gilligan, Thomas W.
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1995
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