Senators at Home: Local Attentiveness and Policy Representation in Congress


Is local attention a substitute for policy representation? Fenno (1978) famously described how legislators develop personal ties with their constituents through periodic visits to their districts and carefully crafted communications. Existing work suggests that such interactions insulate incumbents electorally, creating less need to represent constituents’ policy preferences. Surprisingly, this important argument has never been tested systematically. In this paper, I use data on senator travel and staffing behavior along with survey data from the 2011–2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study to investigate this claim. In addition to showing that areas with important campaign donors are significantly more likely to receive resources, I find that local visits may decrease approval among ideologically opposed constituents. Furthermore, I find inconsistent evidence regarding the effectiveness of local staff. These results suggest that local attention does not always cultivate goodwill in the district. Under polarized politics, home style does not effectively substitute for policy representation.

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