A politician can influence voters just by stating an opinion, even an opposing opinion
Politicians have been depicted as, alternatively, strongly constrained by public opinion, able to shape public opinion if they persuasively appeal to citizens’ values, or relatively unconstrained by public opinion and able to shape it merely by announcing their positions. We conduct unique field experiments in cooperation with legislators to explore how constituents react when legislators take positions they oppose. For the experiments, state legislators sent their constituents official communications with randomly assigned content. In some letters, the representatives took positions on salient issues these constituents opposed, sometimes supported by extensive arguments but sometimes minimally justified. Results from an ostensibly unrelated telephone survey show that citizens often adopted their representatives’ issue positions even when representatives offered little justification. Moreover, citizens did not evaluate their representatives more negatively when representatives took positions citizens opposed. These findings suggest politicians can enjoy broad latitude to shape public opinion.