This article reviews recent research on how mass opinion affects policy making in the context of US national institutions. Three themes materialize. First, research provides compelling evidence for “responsiveness,” in which change in mass opinion is associated with subsequent policy changes, but not for a high level of “congruence” between the policies that are favored by a majority of the public and those that are enacted. Second, although scholarship suggests that both congruence and responsiveness have declined since the 1970s, they are not low by historic standards; rather, mass opinion was particularly influential in that decade. Third, the literature rebuts conventional explanations for the post-1970s decline and suggests that standard proposals for how to reverse it would not significantly alter the impact of mass preferences on policy. The article concludes by considering the possibility that fundraising developments over the past three decades have changed politicians' electoral incentives.


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