Are politicians democratic realists?

Jack Lucas*, Lior Sheffer, Peter John Loewen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Political scientists have long debated whether citizens meet the expectations of a ‘folk theory’ of democratic representation, in which voters correctly reward and punish politicians for their actions, make choices primarily on the basis of policy preferences and orient their decisions to the future rather than the past. But how do elected politicians themselves theorize voting behaviour? In this paper, we report results from an original survey of more than 2000 elected local politicians in Canada and the United States which allows us to characterize politicians' own democratic theories. We uncover substantial variation in politicians' theories of democracy, and we find examples of a number of well-known theoretical traditions (democratic realism, partisan retrospection, folk theory) among politicians themselves. We also show that politicians' theoretical perspectives are related to how they undertake representation when in office. We conclude with an outline of a comparative research agenda on the causes and consequences of politicians' democratic theories.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • democratic theory
  • representation
  • voting behaviour


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