Communication without legislation? A cross-national field experiment on members of parliament

Resul Umit
(2017) Representation, 53(2), 117–134

DOI  pdf

Do legislators communicate with constituents about affairs that they cannot legislate? An influential literature underlines the communication of what legislators do in the legislature to their constituents. This article questions the hypothetical link between communication and legislation. I conduct a cross-national field experiment on members of national parliaments (MPs) to investigate how they behave when ordinary citizens require them to explain what they cannot legislate. Overall, the results show that MPs are evenly responsive to explanation requests within and outside their legislative competence. Likewise, their replies to inquiries on what they can and cannot legislate were equally quick and just as detailed. Further analysis reveals that electoral incentives motivate MPs to account for even those affairs that they cannot legislate. This suggests that, with regard to the content, legislators’ communicative accountability may be larger than previously supposed.