Inaccurate Politicians: Elected Representatives’ Estimations of Public Opinion in Four Countries

Stefaan Walgrave, Arno Jansen, Julie Sevenans, Karolin Soontjens, Jean Benoit Pilet, Nathalie Brack, Frédéric Varone, Luzia Helfer, Rens Vliegenthart, Toni van der Meer, Christian Breunig, Stefanie Bailer, Lior Sheffer, Peter John Loewen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Knowledge of what voters prefer is central to several theories of democratic representation and accountability. Despite this, we know little in a comparative sense of how well politicians know citizens’ policy preferences. We present results from a study of 866 politicians in four countries. Politicians were asked to estimate the percentage of public support for various policy proposals. Comparing more than 10,000 estimations with actual levels of public support, we conclude that politicians are quite inaccurate estimators of people’s preferences. They make large errors and even regularly misperceive what a majority of the voters wants. Politicians are hardly better at estimating public preferences than ordinary citizens. They misperceive not only the preferences of the general public but also the preferences of their own partisan electorate. Politicians are not the experts of public opinion we expect them to be.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-222
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2023


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