Modes of Political Representation: Toward a New Typology

Published date01 November 2005
Date01 November 2005
507Modes of Political Representation
Leiden University
University of Twente
Modes of Political Representation:
Toward a New Typology
The mandate-independence controversy still features prominently in studies
of political representation even though the problems with its theoretical foundation
and empirical operationalization have long been recognized. This article proposes an
alternative typology of modes of representation. By combining type of control (ex
ante or ex post) with direction of the interactions (bottom-up or top-down), our
study captures the most important aspects of the relationship between voters and
representatives. We demonstrate how the typology can be used in a survey instrument
by comparing the attitudes toward representation of Dutch members of Parliament
with the attitudes held by voters, and by relating the views of the members to their
Studies of political representation can focus either on its
outcome—the representativeness of the legislature in terms of its
members’ backgrounds (descriptive representation) or their opinions
or votes (policy representation)—or on its nature as a relationship
between voters and members of Parliament (MPs). In this paper, we
seek to contribute to the understanding of political representation as a
relationship. The relationship between voters and MPs has predomi-
nantly been discussed in terms of whether representatives should act
as “delegates,” putting instructions from the represented above their
own judgment, or as Burkean “trustees,” following their own judgment
rather than that of their constituents. This normatively oriented
“mandate-independence controversy” (Pitkin 1967) forms the basis of
probably the most influential empirical typology of the style of repre-
sentation: Eulau and Wahlke’s delegates, trustees, and politicos (for
whom “it depends” whether they follow their voters or not) (Eulau and
Wahlke 1959; Wahlke et al. 1962). It is this distinction that still features
prominently in many recent studies of the relationship between voters
and MPs (for example, Converse and Pierce 1986; Esaiasson and
508 Rudy B. Andeweg and Jacques Thomassen
Holmberg 1996; Judge 1999; Katz 1997; Méndez-Lago and Martínez
2002; Patzelt 1997; and Saalfeld and Müller 1997).
This persistence is remarkable, given the critique, both normative
and empirical, of the typology. Back in 1967, Pitkin pointed out that the
mandate-independence controversy leads us nowhere. By its very
nature, representation implies that the representative cannot be identified
completely with the demands or interests of the represented, and neither
can the representative be completely divorced from those demands
and interests: at the extreme opposites of the mandate-independence
controversy we can no longer speak of representation.
So, insofar as the mandate-independence controversy contains a conceptual
dispute based on the meaning of representation, both sides are right. The
seemingly paradoxical meaning of representation is perpetuated in our
requirements for the activity of representing: the represented must be both
present and not present. The representative must really act, be independent;
yet the represented must be in some sense acting through him. Hence there
must be no serious persistent conflict between them. (Pitkin 1967, 154)
There is thus no answer to the mandate-independence controversy.
Empirically, all representatives can be classified as politicos in Eulau
and Wahlke’s typology.
. . . if 0.00 means a representative’s legislative record which is purely and
unyieldingly Burkean, totally without regard for expressed district wishes,
and 1.00 reflects a legislative record laid down at every step in response to
perceived district instructions, we should be surprised if many political repre-
sentatives in legislative bodies could be created much outside the limits of a
narrower range, such as .30 to .70, or even .35 to .65. (Converse and Pierce
1986, 497)
The empirical critique of the typology also takes issue with its
operationalization as a relationship between an individual MP and a
geographical constituency, without reference to the existence of
disciplined political parties (Thomassen 1994). In their analysis of the
style of political representation in France (in comparison with the United
States and the Netherlands), Converse and Pierce transformed the
dimension from trustee to delegate into a triangle by adding the loyal
partisan as a third role type (Converse and Pierce 1986, 664–96). As
they argue themselves, however, the loyal partisan is not an independent
third role, but merely another variety of the delegate, with the party
rather than the people as the focus of representation. Converse and
Pierce’s triangle is important for our understanding of the legislator’s
behavior, but it does not help us understand political representation as a
relationship between the representative (individual or collective, meaning,
the party) and the voters.

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