Political Institutions and the Opinion-Policy Link


Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 4:10pm to 5:30pm


124 Mt. Auburn Street, Suite 200-North, Cambridge, MA

Christopher WlezienChristopher Wlezien, Temple University

About the Seminar
The link between public opinion and policy is of special importance in representative democracies. There is interest in policymakers’ responsiveness to public opinion. There also is interest in public responsiveness to policy itself. Only a small number of studies compare either policy or public responsiveness across political systems, however. Previous research has focused mostly on a handful of countries – the U.S., U.K., and Canada – that share similar cultures and electoral systems. It remains, then, for scholars to better assess the opinion-policy connection across contexts.

At this seminar, Professor Christopher Wlezien describes his recent research taking a first step in this direction, drawing on data from two sources: (1) public preferences for spending from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), and (2) measures of government spending from OECD spending datasets. These data permit analysis of 17 countries. He tests theories about the effects of federalism, executive-legislative imbalance, and the proportionality of electoral systems. The results provide evidence of the robustness of the “thermostatic” model of opinion and policy, and also the importance of political institutions as mediators of the connections between them.

About the Speaker
Christopher Wlezien is professor of political science at Temple University. He joined the faculty from Oxford University, where he was reader of Comparative Government and a fellow of Nuffield College. While at Oxford, he co-founded the ESRC-funded Oxford Spring School in Quantitative Methods for Social Research. Previously, he taught at the University of Houston, where he was founding director of the Institute for the Study of Political Economy. He holds or has held visiting positions at Columbia University, European University Institute (Florence), Instituto Empresa (Madrid), Juan March Institute (Madrid), McGill University (Montreal), Sciences Po (Paris), and the University of Manchester (U.K.). He received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1989 and his B.A. from Saint Xavier College (Chicago) in 1984.

His primary, ongoing research develops a “thermostatic” model of public opinion and policy and examines the dynamic interrelationships between preferences for spending and budgetary policy in various domains. A cross-national investigation focusing on the U.S., the U.K., and Canada is the subject of a book entitled Degrees of Democracy, published by Cambridge University Press. Wlezien edited a related book on Who Gets Represented?, which was just published by the Russell Sage Foundation.

His other major area of research, on “The Timeline of Election Campaigns,” addresses the evolution of voter preferences over the course of the election cycle. It has been the subject of a number of articles and a book that is in progress. His most recent paper in the area compares the historical performance of election prediction markets and pre-election polls.

Wlezien also is founding co-editor of the international Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties and the “Poll-Reviews” section of Public Opinion Quarterly, and a member of the editorial boards of five other journals.

wlezien.pdf473 KB