Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Edward S. Adler

Second Advisor

John D. Griffin

Third Advisor

Jeffrey J. Harden

Fourth Advisor

Jennifer Wolak

Fifth Advisor

Peter Hanson


This dissertation examines the nature of dyadic representation in the House of Representatives during the contemporary era of elite polarization and nationalized political conflict. Members of the House are each accountable to a unique geographic constituency but face pressures from polarized national parties. How do lawmakers balance these competing pressures? I argue that members of Congress are responsive to the needs of their districts, but that the nature of the representational relationship depends on the characteristics of the district, level of intra-party consensus on the issue at hand, and the visibility of the behavior in question. I have compiled a unique dataset of district characteristics measured annually between 2006 and 2013. This dataset includes economic indicators such as foreclosure and unemployment rates, employment by economic sector, income, and poverty, as well as a host of demographic and opinion measures. Local economic changes during this time period present an opportunity to identify constituency effects because they are very weakly correlated with other political characteristics. My dissertation is the first study to annually measure the economic and political situation of every district for an extended period of time and to track the district level effects of an unfolding economic crisis, which presents a unique opportunity to study legislative responsiveness. In three empirical chapters I examine constituency influence on issue positions, issue priorities, and legislative success. The results show that dyadic representation in the House has not fully nationalized, but neither is it equal from place to place or across legislative actions. There appears to be greater responsiveness on the least consequential activities and those least relevant to partisan agenda control. There is no evidence that responsiveness as measured depends on district characteristics. Whether and how Congress responds to economic or other national problems likely depends on the party and ideology representing the most affected districts.