Inaccurate Politicians : Elected Representatives’ Estimations of Public Opinion in Four Countries

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2023
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Walgrave, Stefaan
Jansen, Arno
Sevenans, Julie
Soontjens, Karolin
Pilet, Jean-Benoit
Brack, Nathalie
Varone, Frédéric
Helfer, Luzia
Vliegenthart, Rens
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Knowledge of what voters prefer is central to several theories of democratic representation and accountability. Despite this, we know little in a comparative sense of how well politicians know citizens’ policy preferences. We present results from a study of 866 politicians in four countries. Politicians were asked to estimate the percentage of public support for various policy proposals. Comparing more than 10,000 estimations with actual levels of public support, we conclude that politicians are quite inaccurate estimators of people’s preferences. They make large errors and even regularly misperceive what a majority of the voters wants. Politicians are hardly better at estimating public preferences than ordinary citizens. They misperceive not only the preferences of the general public but also the preferences of their own partisan electorate. Politicians are not the experts of public opinion we expect them to be.

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ISO 690WALGRAVE, Stefaan, Arno JANSEN, Julie SEVENANS, Karolin SOONTJENS, Jean-Benoit PILET, Nathalie BRACK, Frédéric VARONE, Luzia HELFER, Rens VLIEGENTHART, Christian BREUNIG, 2023. Inaccurate Politicians : Elected Representatives’ Estimations of Public Opinion in Four Countries. In: The Journal of Politics. University of Chicago Press. 2023, 85(1), pp. 209-222. ISSN 0022-3816. eISSN 1468-2508. Available under: doi: 10.1086/722042
BibTex
@article{Walgrave2023Inacc-59674,
  year={2023},
  doi={10.1086/722042},
  title={Inaccurate Politicians : Elected Representatives’ Estimations of Public Opinion in Four Countries},
  number={1},
  volume={85},
  issn={0022-3816},
  journal={The Journal of Politics},
  pages={209--222},
  author={Walgrave, Stefaan and Jansen, Arno and Sevenans, Julie and Soontjens, Karolin and Pilet, Jean-Benoit and Brack, Nathalie and Varone, Frédéric and Helfer, Luzia and Vliegenthart, Rens and Breunig, Christian}
}
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