How to make congress popular

John R. Hibbing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Conventional wisdom holds that Congress is unpopular because it does not measure up to the people's populist expectations. Instead of being the "citizen's legislature" that the people desire, it is an institutionalized legislature with well-paid longtime members and an elaborate infrastructure of committees, caucuses, parties, and perquisites. The people, it is alleged, desire more of a voice in the decisions made by Congress, they want congressional procedures to be more open so ordinary people know what is going on in the halls of power, and they want more accountability and more representation of the interests of real people. In this paper, I argue that the enactment of this populist reform agenda would actually make Congress substantially less popular with the people. In other words, I contend that the more Congress gives people voice, accountability, representation, and open, visible procedures, the more the people will be dissatisfied with Congress. The real cause of congressional unpopularity is not that people would rather make decisions themselves but that people do not trust members of Congress to make decisions in a non-self-interested fashion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-244
Number of pages26
JournalLegislative Studies Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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