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Do Private Politics Undermine Democratic Responsiveness? (WP-18-13)

James Druckman and Julia Valdes

Private politics occurs when citizens and activists seek policy change outside the democratic process. This includes boycotting companies and/or buycotting products so as to influence market practices (e.g., increased wages, more attention to environmental impact). The rise of private politics presents a challenge for democratic responsiveness—legislators may lose their incentive to respond to citizens’ preferences. This occurs because legislators become less relevant and receive less credit for policy change. The researchers present a survey experiment with state legislators to test this possibility. They find that a constituent communication that references private politics undermines legislative responsiveness. This is particularly true for Republicans who become less likely to take policy action. Moreover, reference to private politics decreases constituent engagement among both Republican and Democratic legislators. The results accentuate the importance of considering private politics in conversations about how democracies work.

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Julia Valdes, Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics, Lake Forest College

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