Edited by William F. Shughart II, Laura Razzolini and Michael Reksulak
Legislatures are a pillar of representative democracy. Everyone past grade school knows roughly what a legislature is: an assembly whose members are elected to represent citizens’ interests in government decision-making. And every school child in America learns that the legislature constitutes one of the three branches of the federal government. Likewise all 50 American state governments have a legislature. Globally, we cannot identify a democratic nation without a legislature. A legislature appears to be a minimal institutional requirement for a modern democratic nation, and probably a requirement for all but the smallest polities where direct democracy or a single elected official is sufficient. The purpose of this chapter is to illuminate features of legislatures that are not commonly emphasized in standard civics texts or in college-level political science courses. Such conventional treatments, in our view, are distressingly inadequate on a number of levels. For example, at best they offer only weak explanations for why public policies routinely deviate from those preferred by a majority of citizens. More than 70 percent of the respondents to most major opinion polls express disapproval when asked to evaluate the US Congress’s performance.
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