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Ana Maria Belchior, "Explaining MPs' perceptions of voters' positions in a party-mediated representation system: Evidence from the Portuguese case," Party Politics, 20 (May 2014), 403-415. [Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol20/issue3/ ]

First paragraph:
For some decades now, legislators' political perceptions have been acknowledged as being an important feature that has to be taken into account when studying democratic representation. From an empirical point of view, there is evidence that the performance of political parties is often determined by the view that leaders have of the stance of their supporters (see, e.g., Clausen, 1977; Miller and Stokes, 1963). These findings are significant enough to make party leaders' political perceptions a crucial topic of study. The literature on political representation has increasingly recognized the importance of the role of citizens in the political decision-making process (see, e.g., Norris, 1999), suggesting that successful political leadership depends on knowledge of voters' preferences and interests. Furthermore, the accuracy of legislators' perceptions seems to be connected with the quality of political representation (Miller and Stokes, 1963). Thus, the success of political parties and their ability to represent the citizenry depends on correctly perceiving voter attitudes, beliefs and preferences, which can be seen as a strategic goal.

Figures and Tables:
Figure 1. The Ideological Position of MPs and Voters and MPs' Perceptions of Voter Position Portuguese Citizens' Study, 2008 and Members of the Portuguese Parliament Study, 2008.
Figure 2. MPs Ideological Position, their Perception of Voters' Positions, and Voters' Position Sources: Portuguese Citizens' Study, 2008, and Members of the Portuguese Parliament Study, 2008.
Table 1. Model of variance and causality of perceptual accuracy - variables categorization.
Table 2. Explaining MPs' perceptual accuracy, OLS (method enter).
Table 3. MPs Estimates and Voter Positions (%) by Political Party.
Table A. Turnout and vote by political party in parliamentary elections, 1991-2011 (%).

Last Paragraph:
What is more, it appears we must take another explanatory factor into account when examining MPs' perceptual accuracy in a party mediated representation system. MPs' perceived distance from voters and the distance between MPs' perceptions and the median party perception proved to be among the most significant variables in the expected direction: the closer to the true or dominant party position, the greater the level of accuracy. This suggests that variance in perceptual accuracy in this kind of electoral system should take the level of party integration of MPs' into account. To consolidate these findings, we clearly need more studies about the importance of electoral systems, and MP-voter perceptual accuracy in particular, on substantive policy issues.

Last updated April 2014