Job Market Paper Abstract
This paper develops a novel theoretical framework for value representation and tests whether legislators' actions reflect their constituents' values. Core political values, such as traditionalism and egalitarianism, shape political attitudes. Given their central place in belief systems, it is natural to ask whether politicians represent these values in Congress. Extant representational models, however, only explore issue and ideological representation. The value representation framework supplements existing theories while alleviating some of the limitations of existing models—it does not require voters to have attitudes on all the issues before Congress nor does it require them to think on the same left-right scale as elites.
I empirically test whether legislators' activities are responsive to voters' values. I estimate voters' traditionalist and egalitarian values at the district and state level using multilevel regression and poststratification on the 2012, 2016, and 2020 ANES. On the legislative side, I classify the values-content of hundreds of roll call votes, over 550,000 bill cosponsorships, and over 100,000 electronic newsletters between the 113th and 116th Congresses (2013-2020). Across all three types of activities, I find that legislators are responsive to their constituents' values. Value responsiveness is also higher if the legislator's party "owns" the value in question. I conclude that values are an important dimension of representation and that legislators are responsive to voters' values in contemporary American politics. See here for a version of the paper.
Public opinion research shows that core political values play a central role in structuring belief systems. However, existing studies of substantive representation focus instead on voters' issue preferences and ideological positions. This dissertation project offers the first study of value representation.
The first part of the project focuses on the centrality of political values to belief systems. I employ panel data from the GSS and ANES and find that values are both constrained and stable over time. I show that values exhibit causal force over issues to a greater extent than left-right ideology or partisanship does—especially as new issues arise. I also show that values influence ideology and partisanship.
The second part measures the extent to which representatives' communicate with constituents using values. I construct a novel dictionary of values-speech using a supervised learning algorithm, which I apply to legislators' electronic newsletters. I find that legislators explain their actions via values as often as they do partisanship or policy and more often than via ideology. Their value speech is stable over time, across legislative topics, and across mediums. Finally, more extremist legislators are more likely to use speech on values owned by their party, while moderates are more likely to discuss concrete policy benefits.
The third part, which constitutes the job market paper, integrates the public opinion side and the legislative side to explore the concept of value representation and test whether members of Congress represent their constituents' values.