The Public Side of Representation

A Study of Citizens' Views about Representatives and the Representative Process

By Christopher J. Grill

Subjects: Congressional Studies
Paperback : 9780791471708, 220 pages, June 2008
Hardcover : 9780791471692, 220 pages, August 2007

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Table of contents

1. Introduction and Overview
A Crisis of Representation?
The Missing Public
A Different Approach
2. Research Methodology
Approaching the Subject
The Research Process:Instrument and Interviews
The Research Process:Coding and Analysis
Profile of Respondents
The Idea of Political Sophistication
3. The Idea of Representation
The Nature of Responsiveness:Preface
Openness and Accessibility
Involvement:Visibility and Direct Contact
Communication:The Heart of Representation
Concluding Remarks
4. Representation in Practice
Communication:Opportunities and Pitfalls
Making Voting Decisions:The Hypotheticals
Resolving Decision-Making Dilemmas
Vital Representational Functions:Explanation and Education
Assessment:Fenno, With Some Twists
5. The Representative Relationship
Representatives Defined
Members’ Job Obligations
Role Expectations:The Rank Scales
Representatives as Political Models?
“A Tough Job”:Being a Representative
Members’ Burdens:The Inherent Conflicts of Representation
The Balancing Act of Representation
Concluding Remarks
6. Institutional Representation
Conceptions of Congress
Institutional Roles:The Rank Scales
View of the Congressional Democratic Process
The State of the Representative Process
Improving the Representative Process
Conclusion:Conceptualizing Congress
7. The Public Side of Representation
Revisiting the Idea of Representation:Insights and Implications
Institutional Representation
Surprising Sensitivity—and Blind Spots
Public Beliefs and the Representative Process
Some Final Thoughts
APPENDIX A Research Instruments
APPENDIX B Interview Excerpts
APPENDIX C Coding Tables

Examines how ordinary citizens view the representative process in Congress.


Representation lies at the very heart of our political system, yet few attempts have been made to examine citizens' views about the representative process. The Public Side of Representation fills that void. Through a series of in-depth interviews, Christopher J. Grill explores people's abstract beliefs about representation, expectations for members of Congress, views on the representative-constituent relationship, and conceptions of Congress as an institution. The resulting analysis describes what the participants view as the essential building blocks of the representative process, depicts how they think representatives should make voting decisions, explains what they believe are the most important roles for members of Congress, and appraises their understanding of the actual representative process. Highly readable and accessible, The Public Side of Representation provides greater insight into American politics, citizens' expectations about government, and the roots of public discontent with the contemporary political process.

Christopher J. Grill is an independent research consultant living in Rensselaer, New York.


"…an exploratory work that challenges us to ask new questions, [this book] is … a success." — Journal of Public Administration

"Representation is full of dilemmas. Using carefully structured and meticulously reported in-depth interviews, Christopher Grill shows that most citizens see those dilemmas clearly and are prone to resist simplistic solutions. In the tradition of Lane and Gamson, he shows that we can learn a great deal by letting ordinary people speak to difficult issues in their own words. The book is important both as a demonstration of the value of in-depth interviewing and for its contribution to our understanding of Americans' attitudes toward political institutions." — Paul J. Quirk, coauthor of Deliberative Choices: Debating Public Policy in Congress

"This insightful book reveals, as no other has, how strongly many constituents feel about communication—especially two-way communication—and political courage in their representatives. Constituents may also be more willing to be told unpalatable truths and may understand better the difficulties of representatives balancing the competing demands on their time than we have thought. An invaluable door has been opened to further research and institutional invention." — Jane Mansbridge, coeditor of Oppositional Consciousness: The Subjective Roots of Social Protest