Information, Recall, and Accountability:
The Electorate's Response to the Clarence Thomas Nomination
Legislative Studies Quarterly XXII:535-50

In order to further our understanding of the empirical value of the constituency control model of representation, we seek to determine whether differences in voter information and recall affect the capacity of elections to serve as instruments of accountability. We address this question by focusing on the degree to which voters held their senators accountable for their votes on the Clarence Thomas nomination in the 1992 senate elections. We find that policy-specific accountability requires voters to correctly recall their incumbent's roll-call behavior. Reliance on more general cues such as party identification and ideology leads some voters to mistakenly hold their representatives accountable for something they did not do. Since these cues are not so helpful on cross-cutting issues like the Thomas nomination, citizens who invest in detailed information will minimize errors in judgment made in the frequent instances when legislators' actions cross partisan and ideological lines. The high school civics texts may be right about the importance of an informed citizenry to democratic practice after all.