Explaining Explanations: How Legislators Explain Their Positions and How Citizens React

Explaining Explanations: How Legislators Explain Their Positions and How Citizens React

By
Christian R. Grose, Neil Malhotra, Robert Parks Van Houweling
American Journal of Political Science. September
2014, Vol. 00, Issue 0, Pages 1 – 20

Legislators claim that how they explain their votes matters as much as or more than the roll calls themselves. However, few studies have systematically examined legislators’ explanations and citizen attitudes in response to these explanations. We theorize that legislators strategically tailor explanations to constituents in order to compensate for policy choices that are incongruent with constituent preferences, and to reinforce policy choices that are congruent. We conduct a within-subjects field experiment using U.S. senators as subjects to test this hypothesis. We then conduct a between-subjects survey experiment of ordinary people to see how they react to the explanatory strategies used by senators in the field experiment. We find that most senators tailor their explanations to their audiences, and that these tailored explanations are effective at currying support—especially among people who disagree with the legislators’ roll-call positions.