Associate Professor of Political Science
Politicians Don't Pander: Political Manipulation and the Loss of Democratic Responsiveness
by Lawrence Jacobs & Robert Shapiro
This important book, which has informed my research a great deal, builds a theory of the current state of American politics based on the interaction among politicians, public opinion, and the media. The authors claim that, for a variety of reasons, democratic responsiveness to public opinion has declined as politicians increasingly use polling information to engage in "crafted talk." Thus, politicians use moderate, poll-tested -- and therefore appealing -- words and phrases to sell policies that in some cases are more extreme than the public would otherwise contemplate. Moreover, politicians on both sides of the ideological divide engage in crafted talk. Supporters of reform emphasize only the benefits of change, opponents only the costs. In turn, media coverage emphasizes the conflictual aspects of a debate between competing sides using similar language to draw diametrically opposed conclusions. The unfortunate consequence is to confuse the public, and ultimately undermine confidence in the political process.