Department of Political Science

Politicians as Party Hacks: Party Loyalty and Public Distrust in Politicians

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Public distrust in politicians is widespread across Western democracies. This general pattern suggests that the problem not only reflects dissatisfaction with government performance and misconduct—the main focus in existing research—but also how democratic politics is generally conducted. This article identifies a mismatch between the representation facilitated by modern democracies and the representation wanted by a majority of citizens. Because political representation is organized around cohesive parties, several institutions incentivize politicians to exhibit loyalty to party policy over other considerations (partisan representation). Observational and experimental data from three countries demonstrate that citizens generally perceive politicians as conducting partisan representation, but they prefer that politicians follow their own conscience (trustee representation) and constituency (delegate representation) over party policy. This mismatch translates into distrust in politicians, even in countries with strong norms for party discipline and among politicians’ own party supporters. The findings have implications for understanding and counteracting political distrust.
Original languageDanish
Article number1516–1529
JournalThe Journal of Politics
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020

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