What Makes Decisions Legitimate? Exploring Perceptions and Attitudes of Everyday Citizens
Faculty Mentor: Jennifer Piscopo, Politics Department
Funding: Ford Research Mentor's Endowment
This project attempts to tackle the complex system of political representation and its influence on the perceived legitimacy of political decisions. Inspired by a 2018 study and publication by Amanda Clayton, Diana O’Brien, and Jennifer M. Piscopo, this project presents the claim that everyday citizens will tend to legitimize unfavorable decisions if such decisions were made by descriptively representative decision-making bodies (particularly descriptive gender representation). Here, it is hypothesized that this legitimizing behavior is implicitly and highly affected by several mechanisms: stereotypes about women, the women-for-women expectation, and personal political ideology or partisanship. This claim was investigated through focus groups of varied compositions, which were intended to elicit more organic, nuanced, and thoughtful opinions from participants than would a survey or other data collection method. This study found that, although merely the symbolic presence of women on decision-making committees was not enough to trigger legitimacy, positive stereotypes about women and expectations about their voting behavior resulted in an increased acceptability of unfavorable decisions where participants were significantly less likely to be immediately dismissive of the decision. Additionally, the study found that, overwhelmingly, it is predominantly partisanship and political ideology that are the leading influential factors on perceptions of political legitimacy, regardless of the gender or descriptive composition of the decision-making body
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