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Tyranny of the Minority

The Subconstituency Politics Theory of Representation

Benjamin Bishin

Publication Year: 2009

Why do politicians frequently heed the preferences of small groups of citizens over those of the majority? Breaking new theoretical ground, Benjamin Bishin explains how the desires of small groups, which he calls “subconstituencies,” often trump the preferences of much larger groups.

Demonstrating the wide applicability of his “unified theory of representation,” Bishin traces politicians' behavior in connection with a wide range of issues, including the Cuban trade embargo, the extension of hate-crimes legislation to protect gay men and lesbians, the renewal of the assault-weapons ban, and abortion politics. In the process, he offers a unique explanation of when, why, and how special interests dominate American national politics.

Published by: Temple University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-ix

Minorities frequently seem to trump majorities in American politics. By and large, not only are theories of representation powerless to explain such outcomes but because so many focus only on representation in the aggregate, we also seem to overlook the fact that such outcomes occur at all...

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1 “¡Quitemos a Castro Ahora!”

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pp. 1-18

At first glance, the man selling limes on the busy street corner in Little Havana looked like any other vendor. But something set him apart. Perhaps it was the large bills passers-by stuffed in his pockets while leaving their limes behind. Or maybe it was the reverence with which the buyers treated him. No, this man wasn’t just a fruit peddler. This man was a hero....

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2 The Subconstituency Politics Theory of Representation

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pp. 19-39

In the summer of 2000, in the midst of a tight campaign, the Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman prepared to do some television interviews. Just before going on the air, an aide suggested that Lieberman “brush the chest hair poking out of his open-necked shirt.” Lieberman responded, “Its OK. There’s a constituency for chest hair” (Connoly 2000)...

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3 Overcoming Ignorance and Apathy: Testing Individual-Level Implications of Representation Theories

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pp. 40-53

The uncertain role played by citizens in becoming informed consumers of political information is among the most serious challenges to explanations of how the representation process works. Extant theories of representation, summarized in the demand model, require levels of knowledge and interest far beyond citizens’ apparent capacity...

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4 Subconstituencies in Campaigns

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pp. 54-89

In the fall of 1994, Senator Chuck Robb of Virginia faced a tight reelection contest against Oliver North. Robb, who was stumping for votes at a factory, stopped to take questions from the press when the following exchange with Washington Post reporter Don Baker occurred: SENATOR ROBB: At least give honest and realistic responses to the tough questions...

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5 Subconstituencies in Congress

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pp. 90-119

In the fall of 1989, following years of controversy surrounding deaths associated with an amino acid supplement called tryptophane, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) proposed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990. The bill required food labels to list nutritional content and prohibited manufacturers from making health claims...

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6 Heterogeneity and Representation Reconsidered

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pp. 120-137

Since the time of Aristotle, elites have claimed that diversity in a polity is an inherent good, with more always being preferred to less. James Madison saw diversity of peoples and interests as the solution to the problem of majority tyranny. In today’s society, American governmental and educational institutions promote policies designed to embrace, and enhance...

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7 The Myth of Issue Visibility

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pp. 138-154

After years of opposition from the Clinton and Bush administrations and the Republican-controlled House, supporters of a resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide mobilized in 2007.1 The mobilization was sparked when Democrats took control of the House and elected Representative Nancy Pelosi of California’s 8th district...

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8 Conclusion

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pp. 155-166

Annie Betancourt fared poorly in her race for Congress, despite taking the majority-preferred position on Cuba—the most visible issue in the election—because the constituents to whom she appealed were less intense than those who supported her opponent. To be sure, factors such as money and a Republican bias inherent in the district almost certainly mattered as well. But the fact that a Cuban American woman...


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pp. 167-182


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pp. 183-196


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pp. 197-204

E-ISBN-13: 9781592136605
Print-ISBN-13: 9781592136599

Publication Year: 2009