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Federalism and Public Responsiveness to Policy

By Stuart N. Sorokay


Public responsiveness to government policy is a crucial component of representative democracy, but may be far weaker in federal regimes.This article explores the consequences of federalism for public responsiveness in one highly federalized policy domain: welfare spending in Canada. Results suggest that citizens’preferences for spending at the federal level are affected by changes in both federal and provincial spending, and to an equal degree; they suggest, in short, that federalism poses serious problems where public responsiveness is concerned. A concluding section considers the implications of these findings for the representation of public opinion in policy in federalized states. Recent years have seen an increase in federalism and other forms of decentralization worldwide (see, e.g., Garrett and Rodden 2003). This increase has political and sociological explanations. It has many possible consequences as well, some of which are considered to be beneficial. One of these—indeed, a critical one—is that federal institutions improve the representation of the public in government. There are good reasons to believe that federalism does enhance representation, to be sure. But there also are reasons to believe that it attenuates the relationship between public opinion and policy. Effective policy representation presupposes public responsiveness to policy itself; that is, it presupposes that the public effectively notices what policymakers actually do. There are two reasons. First, public responsiveness provides an important motivation for politicians to represent public preferences: a monitoring public. Second, public responsiveness makes public inputs into the policy process meaningful for policymakers: it allows for informed public preferences. Representative democracy thus depends on public responsiveness to policy. The stronger the public responsiveness, the greater the basis for representation. By corollary, weaker public responsiveness will tend to weaken representative democracy.1 It is through this lens that the current article addresses federalis

Topics: Publius, TheJournal of Federalism, pp.1^22
Year: 2016
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