Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I even say who wrote them. If you have more recent summaries to add to this collection, send them my way I guess. Sorry for the ads; they cover the costs of keeping this online.
Ansolabehere, Stephen; Jones, Philip Edward. 2010. Constituents' Responses to Congressional Roll-Call Voting. American Journal of Political Science 54 (July): 583-597.
Turns out that democracy works, at least when it comes to voters holding members of Congress accountable for their voting record. For accountability to happen, we need to see three things: (1) Voters need to have specific opinions on specific issues before Congress; (2) voters need to know how their member of Congress actually voted on those issues; and (3) the voter's agreement with the member's voting record should have a strong effect on the voter's decision to vote (or not) for the member of Congress.
Political scientists have spilled a lot of ink over the past several decades debating whether all that really happens. Ansolabehere and Jones ran a survey to find out. Surprisingly, that hadn't been done before. Turns out democracy isn't quite perfect, but it works well enough. They look at each of the three steps listed above:
That "as perceived by the voter" bit is critical. Still, the articles goes a long way toward showing that voters really do hold members of Congress accountable for their voting records.
I have only one quibble with the article. They are asking people about bills that already came before Congress in the previous year. It's possible that people changed their position on these bills after seeing how their Representative (and other Representatives from their preferred party) voted on it. This is a central part of the Michigan school's "funnel model," which says that voters start off with a partisan attachment, and they then adopt the issue positions that they perceive are consistent with that partisan attachment.
So, if we believe The American Voter, then maybe voters had different views about all these issues before Congress addressed them, but when they saw how their party took a side on each issue over the course of 2005-2006, their views shifted to match the party line. Thus, members of Congress aren't responding to voters--voters are responding to members of Congress.
I'm not a huge fan of this line of argument from The American Voter, but it's still an influential view within political science, so I expect that Ansolabehere and Jones may take some flack from Michigan loyalists.
Research by the same authors
Research on similar subjects
Ansolabehere, Stephen (author) • Jones, Philip Edward (author) • American Journal of Political Science • American Politics • Congressional Elections • Ideology • Legislatures • Median Voter • Partisanship • Public Opinion • Responsiveness • Substantive Representation • Voter Information • Voting