I'm aware that in each house of the US congress there is a majority and minority whip tasked with, as far as I can tell from Wikipedia, voting as they are told rather than how they would choose to vote according to their own conscience or in accordance with or in the best interest of those who elected them.

In politico's House approves Jan. 6 riot probe as Dems fret over pro-Trump chaos agents just ran across the following sentence:

House GOP leaders did not formally whip against the select committee but recommended their members vote “no."

Apparently there is formal whipping and informal whipping.

Question: Are voters in the US generally aware of how and when their congressional representatives are being whipped? As an example only, one way they might become aware is if a politician were to make it known that they would have voted a certain way but they weren't allowed to, but that doesn't seem likely.

Answers would: ideally come from scholarly work in political science or related research or writings that have looked into this. I'm not asking for opinions or anecdotes here; presumably political scientists would have looked into this as it at least superficially seems to subvert the whole idea of elected representatives voting for their constituents and therefore might be said to be undemocratic in nature. I'm not saying that's necessarily so, but it begs the question of what a vote means if you vote how your told to vote or under duress. From the same Wikipedia article:

Because members of Congress cannot serve simultaneously in Executive Branch positions, a whip in the United States cannot bargain for votes by using potential promotion or demotion in a sitting administration as an inducement. There is, however, a highly structured committee system in both houses of Congress, and a whip may be able to offer promotion or threaten demotion within that system instead. In the House of Representatives, the influence of a single member individually is relatively small and therefore depends a great deal on the representative's seniority (i.e., in most cases, on the length of time they have held office).

  • There isn't a public-awareness tag; public-opinion seem to be the closest substitute. I've added usage guidance for the whipping tag; someone may choose to expand on it.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 5:49
  • The question section asks multiple seemingly-related-but-actually-different questions which --- given the quested depth of the answers being requested --- would require different answers from different experts (i.e., an expert in voter knowledge and an expert in Congressional communication). For instance, there are entire books written about how legislators communicate with their constituents (and especially how they justify their decisions).
    – Cat
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 6:07
  • 1
    @Matt The "for example"'s were meant to clarify and narrow rather than add to it. I've recast the clarification without the question mark.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 6:18
  • @Matt a related question to which you may be able to comment on or answer: Writings or public statements advising elected politicians on how to make hard choices and linked to it in meta: How to ask beginner-level questions on political theory or science?
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 6:45

1 Answer 1


If we expand the question from "are voters aware of their representatives being whipped?" to "are voters aware of their representatives being loyal to their party?" then then answer is yes and, perhaps surprisingly, voters actually punish their legislators and Congress as an institution for party loyalty.

Carson et al. (2010) use Congressional voting records and election data to show that, all else equal, legislators are less likely to be reelected if they exhibit higher party loyalty. They obviously could not punish legislators for this behavior unless they were (even vaguely) aware of it.

The authors speculate on how voters become aware of when their legislator might be putting party over their constituents (p. 602):

Media coverage surrounding salient votes in Congress suggests that legislators have sufficient reason to worry about their roll calls being politicized. Media coverage of showdown votes in Congress can expose “attentive publics” ... to an incumbent’s roll-call choices. As a result, those individuals most capable of exploiting legislators’ voting records for political advantage—prospective candidates, political activists, and social elites—have ample opportunities to become aware of roll-call votes and transform them into electorally salient political issues. This, in turn, can be sufficient for the roll call to have an impact at the polls. It is even more likely that party unity votes will attract considerable media attention given that a majority of members in both parties are taking opposing sides on the issues under consideration.

They support this argument with a highly relevant passage from Fiorina (1974, p. 123):

The entire district need not be watching, just some part of it—a potential challenger, newspaper editor, interest group, or lone, informed citizen. Nor need they be watching at the time of the vote; just so they dig up the dirt before the election.

The natural follow-up question would then be "why would parties force their members to do something that is (evidently) unpopular with their constituents?" A starting point for those interested in this question could be Harbridge and Malhotra (2011), who tackle this exact question while also showing that voters vary in whether they like or dislike party loyalty based on their strength of party identification.

Carson, Jamie L., Gregory Koger, Matthew J. Lebo, and Everett Young. "The electoral costs of party loyalty in Congress." American Journal of Political Science 54, no. 3 (2010): 598-616.

Fiorina, Morris P. Representatives, roll calls, and constituencies. Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1974.

Harbridge, Laurel, and Neil Malhotra. "Electoral incentives and partisan conflict in Congress: Evidence from survey experiments." American Journal of Political Science 55, no. 3 (2011): 494-510.

  • 1
    Interesting answer! Statistically significant collective behavior isn't a guarantee of awareness or even intelligence (Slime Mold Can Solve Exponentially Complicated Problems in Linear Time) but I like how this answer addresses the question directly.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 7:39
  • 2
    @uhoh Yeah, unfortunately, I'm not sure if you'll find a study that actually tests precise voter knowledge on party loyalty/whipping rates. My sense of the literature is that it's sufficiently interesting to document voters punish/reward legislator behavior in the aggregate (since, after all. legislators are trying optimize aggregate voting behavior!) It's possible, though.
    – Cat
    Commented Jul 3, 2021 at 7:43

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