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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
Raymond La Raja
American Politics | Political Science
At the heart of a representative democracy is the need for open lines of communication between citizens and their representatives. This dissertation is comprised of three stand-alone chapters which examine how responsive American public officials are to constituent communications, Americans' attitudes about elite responsiveness, and how race and gender condition this relationship. In the first chapter, I conduct the first meta-analysis of all experiments that examine how responsive public officials are to constituent communication. I demonstrate at a higher level of precision than any single study the degree to which legislators are biased against racial and ethnic minorities, and find that at least some of these inequalities in responsiveness are driven by personal biases of public officials, rather than strategic, electoral considerations. In the second chapter, I use three survey experiments to examine how individuals evaluate legislative responsiveness to constituent communication. I find that, contrary to the assumptions of many scholars, the personal tone and friendliness of legislative communication often matter more for constituents' evaluations than the actual substance of the communication itself. I develop a statistical measure of legislative responsiveness based on these results and demonstrate its use through a re-analysis of a prominent audit study. In the final chapter, I show how evaluations of legislative responsiveness are conditioned by gender. Female legislators, but not male legislators, are penalized when they take longer to respond to constituents, yet they are not rewarded as much as men are when they use a friendly tone. In fact, it is individuals that hold the most positive views of women that then penalize them when they do not provide quality responsiveness to constituents. These findings suggest that holding women to high standards results in a double-bind for female legislators.
As a whole, this dissertation contributes to the burgeoning literature on elite responsiveness by examining how representational home-styles (the way legislators present themselves to their constituents) shape citizens' perceptions of representation. Viewing legislative communication as a "two-way street'' rather than an elite-centered phenomenon is crucial to understanding how to restore trust in the political process.
Costa, Mia, "Communication is a Two Way Street: Race, Gender, and Elite Responsiveness in U.S. Politics" (2018). Doctoral Dissertations. 1315.