Constituency Characteristics, Civil Society Links and Topic Selection by Individual Legislators: Evidence from Portugal
ECPR Joint Sessions Nicosia
In non-preferential electoral systems, where the chances for an MP to get re-elected strongly depend on decisions by party elites, we generally assume that political parties have a strong say on the individual agendas of MPs. On the other hand, this assumption has hardly been tested empirically, leaving a lot of unexplained variation in the way individual legislators within the same party select the topics they devote attention to. This paper aims to contribute to current studies on political representation by examining the importance of a range of determinants of individual topic selection in Portugal. In particular, it tests the relevance of the characteristics of the electoral district where the MP was elected, his/her links with distinct social groups and his/her career status. The institutional characteristics of the Portuguese political system make for a suitable case study to evaluate these hypotheses. Portuguese MPs have a national mandate and their re-election chances hinge on being reselected by the party elites. This should make the odds of observing MPs catering to their constituency or advancing personal agendas lower in comparison with preferential electoral systems. The paper tackles this question by drawing on a dataset comprising the population of written parliamentary questions (more than 10,000) tabled by Portuguese MPs in the period from 2009 until 2015. Our findings have important implications for our understanding of political representation and the role of individual legislators as a linkage mechanism in European democracies.
Parliaments,Representation,Party Members,Agenda-Setting,Southern Europe