Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want from Political Representation

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How do citizens want to be represented by elected officials in an era of affective polarization? Contemporary narratives about American politics argue that people embrace elite expressions of negative partisanship, above and beyond representation on policy. Using three conjoint experiments, I examine how individuals weigh the relative value of substantive representation on issues, constituency service, and partisan affect. The findings challenge the notion that Americans are primarily motivated by their affective, partisan identities and demonstrate the value of policy congruence and service responsiveness in terms of perceptions of political representation. The implication is that people evaluate elected officials in ways that we would expect them to in a healthy, functioning representative democracy, rather than one characterized by partisan animus. Even if polarization is driven by “affect, not ideology,” citizens prioritize representational styles centered around the issues that matter to them.




Costa, M. (2021). Ideology, Not Affect: What Americans Want from Political Representation. American Journal of Political Science, 65(2), 342–358.

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