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Pro & Con #9: Should Representatives represent their Consciences or their Constituent?

In 2019, America is divided. America divided because the polls have indicated that the Public approval rating has dropped significantly top 20%. Brenan, a Gallup pollster, conducted a poll and concluded that the “Americans’ Approval of Congress remains at 20% for the second consecutive month, having declined after hitting a two-year high point of 26% in March” (Brenan, 2019, para 1). This indicates that Congress is doing something wrong. If Congress is not representing the Constituents, this could mean a decrease in the public’s view of Congress. If the Congress is representing the Constituents but not their consciences, it could lead to a decrease of the public’s view of Congress. These two explanations pose the question, “If one of these explanations is decreasing the approval rating of Congress, should the representatives represent their consciences or their constituent?”

For this question to be answered thoroughly, Political representation needs to be analyzed and defined. Political representation is defined by Stanford, as “the activity of making citizens’ voices, opinions, and perspectives ‘present’ in public policy making processes” (Dozi, 2018, para 1) Political representation “occurs when political actors speak, advocate, symbolize, and act on the behalf of others in the political arena” (para 1). This indicates that it is a kind of political assistance. Four kinds of political representation exist to help answer the question of whether representatives should represent their consciences or their constituents. Pitkin identifies these four political views as “formalistic representation, descriptive representation, symbolic representation, and substantive representation” (para 6).

Formalistic representation is “the institutional arrangements that precede and initiate representation” (para 7). Formalistic representation has two aspects, authorization and accountability. Authorization formalistic representation is the means “by which a representative obtains his or her standing, status, position, or office” (para 8). Authorization formalistic representation has no bearing on how a representative behaves. Therefore, one can choose if a representative can legitimately hold his or her position. Whereas, Accountability formalistic Representation is “the ability of constituents to punish their representatives for failing to act in accordance with their wishes (e.g. voting in elected official out of office) or the responsiveness of the representative to the constituents” (para 9). Accountability also has no bearing on how a representative behaves. Therefore, one can choose if a representative can be sanctioned or has been responsive. If a representative does not represent the constituents, the representative can be punished and be voted out of office. Therefore, it is imperative for the representative to represent the constituents instead of their consciences because the representative can be voted out of office and will not be acting in the best interest of the voters.

Symbolic Representation is “the way that a representative ‘stands for’ the represented—that is, the meaning that a representative has for those being represented” (para 10). The Standard for telling if a representative is representing the people is “by the degree of acceptance that the representative has among the represented.” this is a practical view of representation. This political view is popular among the United States representatives. It is popular because this view has the best interest of the voters. Therefore, it is in the best interest of the representative to represent the constituents instead of their consciences because it has the best interest of the voters.

Descriptive Representation is “the extent to which a representative resembles those being represented” (para.11). The standards of evaluating the representative is assessing the representative “by the accuracy of the resemblance between resemblance between the representative and the represented” (para 12). This means that the Representatives are acting so much like the represented that the representatives are actually mirroring the characteristic of the represented. The Descriptive representation is the best for the represented. This view represents the constituents better than representing their consciences. According to Prezi, Descriptive representation poses a problem. This problem is that “descriptive representation can often twist society’s perception of a candidate’s agenda” (“Descriptive vs. Substantive Representation,” 2014, Slide 6). This is an interest argument against descriptive representation. It is interesting because descriptive representation is defined as mirroring effect between a representative and a constituent.

Descriptive representation does not always have a positive effect. Descriptive Representation can lead to interest groups to be underrepresented. Kaslovsky, Rogowski, and Stone (2018) did a case study on Supreme Court Justices and proved that “Women and minorities are severely underrepresented at the highest levels of judiciary” (p. 4). They found, “of the 113 justices who have served on the Supreme Court, only four have been women; just three have been of color. Today, despite comprising a majority of the population, women hold approximately one-third of the seats on federal appellate and trial courts” (p. 4). This example proves that the women are underrepresented in the Supreme Court. However, underrepresentation is better than no representation. Therefore, it is important for the representative to represent their constituents, instead of their consciences, because it ensures the constituents are being accurately represented in Congress.

The final view of Political Representation is Substantive Representation. Substantive Representation is defined by Prezi as “The tendency of elected officials to support an agenda based on their person and political party’s view” (“Descriptive vs. Substantive Representation,” 2014, slide 3). Substantive Representation is similar to Descriptive representation. When Descriptive Representation is advocated, there is rise in Substantive Representation. Constituents favor this view because it makes sure that the elected officials are supporting the constituents’ interest instead of the representatives’ consciences. If substantive representation is like descriptive representation, it will affect public opinion in two ways. Kaslovsky, Rogowski, and Stone (2018) found that “descriptive representation provides indirect benefits by securing policy outcomes that better reflect the preferences of groups that are represented among decision makers and has a direct effect on public opinion by providing symbolic benefits through the perceptions of inclusion” (p. 5). Likewise, Substantive Representation influences the policies made in congressional meetings. This enables constituents to “feel that their voices are legitimated within the policy and increase their trust in the electoral system and government-decision making” (p. 5).

Through these four types of political representation, representatives should favor supporting the constituents’ interest instead of the representatives’ interests. Citizens need to implement this strategy to make sure that the representatives are hearing the political voices of the constituents. Congress to ensure that they are not focusing to much on their own agenda, but on their constituents’ interest. Citizens need representatives to implement policy that will change America for the better. This can happen by representatives supporting the constituents’ interest, instead of the representatives’ interest.


Dozi, Suzanne. (2018). Political representation. Stanford. Retrieved from

Kaslovsky, J., Rogowski, J.C., & Stone, A.R, (2018). Descriptive representation, public opinion, and the courts. Harvard University. Retrieved from

Hood, Tim. (2014). Descriptive vs. substantive representation. Prezi. Retrieved from

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