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How Do Citizens React When Politicians Support Policies They Oppose? Field Experiments with Elite Communication

September 2014

David E. Broockman, Daniel M. Butler


This experiment analyzes the effect of state legislators expressing opinions to their constituents. This experiment was broken into two studies. In the first study, following a survey some constituents received letters from their legislator expressing the opposite stance on an issue. Other constituents received no letter. In study two, some constituents received these letters with very brief descriptions, while other constituents received letters with very detailed explanations of the legislator’s opinion. The results show that legislator letters significantly move public opinion towards the opinion of the legislator. A legislator’s approval rating is not hurt by expressing opposite stances in letters, and may in fact be increased by sending letters. Finally, whether the letter was brief or detailed had little effect.

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Policy Implications

One way to build support for a policy could be for state legislators to announce their support of the policy. This study suggests that support for the policy will increase, and the legislator will face no repercussions in the next election. Conversely, announcing opposition for a policy should decrease public support for it.

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