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The Moment You Decide You Divide – How Citizens and Politicians Assess Procedural Fairness

Conference contribution
Authors Peter Esaiasson
Patrik Öhberg
Published in The Annual American Political Science Association Meeting
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Political Science
Language en
Subject categories Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


Government authorities by necessity make a multitude of decisions that run against the preference of individual citizens. Democratic polities will perform better if government can rely on instruments that legitimize decisions in the minds of those affected by them. However, policy decisions typically involve difficult trade-offs between legitimate interests. This is obvious for politicians who have experienced decision-making processes first hand. Or is it? Are politicians really better to acknowledge a fair process than citizens? To learn more about differential views on representation at work, we study experimentally how citizens and politicians perceive and evaluate a policy decision. Participants in the experiment receive information about a policy decision in which we systematically manipulate the outcome and the fairness of the process leading up to the decision. The findings indicate that there is indeed a central divide over representation at work, but not between citizens and politicians but between those who agree and disagree with the substantial decision. Yet, since politicians are more engaged on the issue, the effect of winning and losing is stronger among them when they assess the procedural fairness. Our study gives a contribution by giving insights about the conditions surrounding the acceptance of the decision-making processes that occurs on daily basis in our representative democracy.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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