Why Washington Won’t Work, Marc J. Hetherington and Thomas J. Rudolph

Reviewed by Laurel Harbridge

Contemporary American politics is often characterized by partisan conflict and gridlock. When paired with debate about the extent of polarization in the mass public, congressional behavior provokes the question, “Why, then, do citizens continue to allow their representatives to do such a poor job representing them?” (p. 1). Marc J. Hetherington and Thomas J. Rudolph begin their book with this question. The answer, they argue, is the growing polarization of trust in government, which precludes policy consensus and pressure for action.

This is a timely book that addresses concerns of academics and political observers alike. Hetherington and Rudolph delve into important contemporary issues, including legislative productivity, public support for government policies, and, ultimately, representation. Their findings point to one way the public provides perverse incentives for politicians. The public may want action and solutions to pressing problems, but it does not provide a consensus on specific policies and the resulting impetus for government responsiveness. While compelling, the authors could do even more here to note how the institutional structures of elections promote dyadic rather than collective responsiveness. The authors could then address more directly how their arguments about trust in government enter into this distinction.


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