The Precarious Link between Legislators and Constituent Opinion: Evidence from Matched Roll Call and Referendum Votes

Source: John G. Matsusaka, University of Southern California – Marshall School of Business; USC Gould School of Law, USC CLASS Research Paper No. CLASS15-18, June 4, 2015

From the abstract:
This paper tests theories of representation by studying laws that were challenged by referendum. For these laws, we can compare legislator roll call votes and citizen votes on the same law. In a sample of 3,242 roll call votes on 25 laws in nine states, I find that legislators voted congruent with majority opinion in their district 67 percent of the time, so representation generally “worked.” However, when legislator preferences differed from district opinion on an issue, legislators voted congruent with district opinion only 28 percent of the time. Electoral pressure measured by vote margin, proximity of next election, and term limits had at most a modest connection with congruence. The evidence is broadly consistent with the assumption of the citizen-candidate (or trustee) theory that legislators vote their own preferences.