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Appropriators not Position Takers: The Distorting Effects of Electoral Incentives on Congressional Representation


  • For helpful feedback, I thank seminar participants at Northwestern University, New York University, MIT, participants at the annual MPSA meetings, Stanford University, and UCLA. I also benefited from discussions with Lisa Blaydes, Adam Bonica, David Brady, Stephanie Burkhalter, Gary Cox, Lauren Davenport, Daniel Diermeier, Kyle Dropp, Morris Fiorina, Claudine Gay, Matthew Green, D. Sunshine Hillygus, Gary King, Karen Jusko Clayton Nall, Matthew Platt, Kevin Quinn, Jonathan Rodden, Samir Soneji, Brandon Stewart, Mike Tomz, Jonathan Wand, Barry Weingast, Amber Wichowsky, Zac Peskowitz, the anonymous reviewers, and the editor. Replication data and code are available on the AJPS dataverse page.


Congressional districts create two levels of representation. Studies of representation focus on a disaggregated level: the electoral connection between representatives and constituents. But there is a collective level of representation—the result of aggregating across representatives. This article uses new measures of home styles to demonstrate that responsiveness to constituents can have negative consequences for collective representation. The electoral connection causes marginal representatives—legislators with districts composed of the other party's partisans—to emphasize appropriations in their home styles. But it causes aligned representatives—those with districts filled with copartisans—to build their home styles around position taking. Aggregated across representatives, this results in an artificial polarization in stated party positions: aligned representatives, who tend to be ideologically extreme, dominate policy debates. The logic and evidence in this article provide an explanation for the apparent rise in vitriolic debate, and the new measures facilitate a literature on home styles.