Christopher Wlezien

University of Texas at Austin

Department of Government
Batts Hall
Austin, Texas
78712-1704 |  Visit Personal Website

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I am in the process of research in the US and elsewhere that carries forward previous research. Some of it picks up where my book with Peter Enns, entitled Who Gets Represented? (Russell Sage Foundation, 2011), left off. That volume addresses representational inequality in the United States and focuses on: (a) the degree to which preferences for policy actually differ across groups in the US, and (b) how the evident differences in preferences matter for policy itself, i.e., whether some opinions are better represented than others. Current work reconsiders Gilens and Page's analysis of policy responsiveness to the opinions of different income groups, which is complicated by the fact that opinions of high and middle income groups are correlated across issues at a near-perfect 0.94. Our analysis examines who wins when high and middle income opinion is in disagreement, i.e., when one group supports a policy and the other opposes. The analysis reveals that the rich win 53% of the time and the middle 47%. The rich thus may win more than they should, but it is not strong evidence of oligarchy. There also is little difference in the ideological orientation of the policy wins for the different groups. In other also am undertaking comparative research with Stuart Soroka that builds on our book Degrees of Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2010). Some of the new research examines how federalism structures public responsiveness to policy. Other work considers the influence of electoral and government institutions on the representation of public opinion in policy. For more, see Also see my homepage at UT-Austin.

Wlezien, Christopher. 1996. "Dynamics of Representation: The Case of US Spending on Defense." British Journal of Political Science 26 (1):81–103.
Abstract: The representation of public preferences in public policy is fundamental to most conceptions of democracy. If representation is effectively undertaken, we would expect to find a correspondence between public preferences for policy and policy itself. If representation is dynamic, policy makers should respond to changes in preferences over time. The integrity of the representational connection, however, rests fundamentally on the expectation that the public actually notices and responds to policy decisions. Such a public would adjust its preferences for ‘more’ or ‘less’ policy in response to what policy makers actually do, much like a thermostat. Despite its apparent importance, there is little research that systematically addresses this feedback of policy on preferences over time. Quite simply, we do not know whether the public adjusts its preferences for policy in response to what policy makers do. By implication, we do not fully understand the dynamics of representation. This research begins to address these issues and focuses on the relationships between public preferences and policy in a single, salient domain.
DOI: 10.1017/S0007123400007420
Wlezien, Christopher, and Stuart Soroka. 2012. "Political Institutions and the Opinion-Policy Link." West European Politics 35 (6):1407-1432.
Abstract: The link between public opinion and policy is of special importance in representative democracies. Policymakers’ responsiveness to public opinion is critical. Public responsiveness to policy itself is as well. Only a small number of studies compare either policy or public responsiveness across political systems, however. Previous research has focused on a handful of countries – mostly the US, UK and Canada – that share similar cultures and electoral systems. It remains, then, for scholars to assess the opinion–policy connection across a broad range of contexts. This paper takes a first step in this direction, drawing on data from two sources: (1) public preferences for spending from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP) and (2) measures of government spending from OECD spending datasets. These data permit a panel analysis of 17 countries. The article tests theories about the effects of federalism, executive–legislative imbalance, and the proportionality of electoral systems. The results provide evidence of the robustness of the ‘thermostatic’ model of opinion and policy but also the importance of political institutions as moderators of the connections between them.
DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2012.713752
Wlezien, Christopher. 2004. "Patterns of Representation: Dynamics of Public Preferences and Policy." Journal of Politics 66 (1):1-24.
Abstract: Much research shows that politicians represent public preferences in public policy. Although we know that there is representation, we do not understand the nature of the relationship in different policy areas. We do not know whether and to what extent representation varies across domains. Even where we find representation, we do not know what policy makers actually represent. This article explicitly addresses these issues, focusing on a set of nine spending domains in the United States. At the heart of the article is a simple conjecture: representation varies across domains, and the pattern is symmetrical to the pattern of public responsiveness to budgetary policy itself. Analysis of the relationships between opinion and policy over time in the different spending domains supports the conjecture. The patterns fit quite nicely with what we know about the influence of different issues on voting behavior in American national elections. Based on this analysis, then, it appears that politicians’ responsiveness to public preferences reflects the public importance of different policy domains.
DOI: 10.1046/j.1468-2508.2004.00139.x
Wlezien, Christopher. 1995. "The Public as Thermostat: Dynamics of Preferences for Spending." American Journal of Political Science 39 (4):981-1000.
Abstract: Theory: Democratic accountability requires that the public be reasonably well-informed about what policymakers actually do. Such a public would adjust its preferences for "more" or "less" policy in response to policy outputs themselves. In effect, the public would behave like a thermostat; when the actual policy "temperature" differs from the preferred policy temperature, the public would send a signal to adjust policy accordingly, and once sufficiently adjusted, the signal would stop. Hypotheses: In domains where policy is clearly defined and salient to the public, changes in the public's preferences for more policy activity are negatively related to changes in policy. Methods: A thermostatic model of American public preferences for spending on defense and a set of five social programs is developed and then tested using time series regression analysis. Results: Changes in public preferences for more spending reflect changes in both the preferred levels of spending and spending decisions themselves. Most importantly, changes in preferences are negatively related to spending decisions, whereby the public adjusts its preferences for more spending downward (upward) when appropriations increase (decrease). Thus, consistent with the Eastonian model, policy outputs do "feed back" on public inputs, at least in the defense spending domain and across a set of social spending domains.
DOI: 10.2307/2111666
Wlezien, Christopher, and Stuart Soroka. 2010. Degrees of Democracy: Politics, Public Opinion, and Policy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Substantive Focus:
Economic Policy SECONDARY
Comparative Public Policy PRIMARY

Theoretical Focus:
Agenda-Setting, Adoption, and Implementation SECONDARY
Public Opinion PRIMARY