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The Impact of Representative Claims: Theorizing Citizens’ Responses

Contentious Politics
Political Psychology
Representation
Political Activism
Public Opinion
Pieter De Wilde
Norwegian University of Science & Technology, Trondheim
Pieter De Wilde
Norwegian University of Science & Technology, Trondheim

Abstract

The constructivist turn in research on representation has highlighted the importance of representative claims. Statements by elected or unelected individuals and organizations claiming that they stand for a particular constituency. So far, much has been theorized about the democratic credentials of such claims. Initial empirical research maps a great variety of representative claims. Yet, we lack understanding of how citizens in the audience, witnessing representative claims, react. Under which conditions do citizens feel represented through representative claims? This paper takes up the challenge of theorizing the relationship between representative claims and audience reactions, focusing specifically on claims made by unelected representatives. It draws on the literature in the constructivist turn in representation, media effects literature and political psychology. It theorizes that citizens considering themselves part of marginalized groups have stronger reactions to representative claims than those who do not feel marginalized, because of pre-existing mistrust to key institutions of representative democracy, such as political parties, parliaments, governments and the media. It also theorizes that the response to representative claims is mitigated by emotional appeals in the claim, whether the claimant explicitly assigns blame for policy failures, and whether the claimant invokes universal values such as equality, freedom or justice.