• responsibility attribution;
  • attitude accessibility;
  • voting behavior;
  • federalism;
  • democratic representation

Federalism is designed to enhance democratic representation because it gives citizens the opportunity to shape policymaking at multiple levels of government. This design feature is premised on the assumption that individuals make distinctions in the responsibilities that pertain to different levels of government and link these distinctions to their voting decisions. Citizens are expected to sanction politicians for those policy decisions over which their level of government has responsibility. This paper draws on work in both political and social psychology to develop a theoretical framework consistent with the federalist view of democratic representation to explain how people make voting decisions. Individuals who were able to vote in elections at all three levels of government (national, state, and local) in 2002 were surveyed, allowing a full test of the federalist voting model. Findings show that while citizens do make distinctions among levels of government when evaluating issues, they only link these distinctions to their voting decisions if those issue attitudes are highly accessible. Implications for democratic representation and future research are discussed.