Political Science professor publishes study on politician responsiveness

Jan 4, 2022 | Faculty/Staff, General News, Liberal Arts, Research

Dr. William O’Brochta, Louisiana Tech University Assistant Professor of Political Science, recently published an article focused on politician attendance in the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. The article, titled “Do Peers respond? Attendance and critical events,” was published in the journal British Politics in January.

The article is supported by O’Brochta’s post on the blog UK in a Changing Europe.

These works explore when politicians decide to act in response to “critical political events” like scandals, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters. Increasing politician responsiveness is a key way to improve the quality of services that government can deliver to the public.

“I study whether elections prompt politicians be more responsive to political events of consequence to members of the public. The UK House of Lords is an appropriate setting for examining this question because it is an unelected body, but one that purports to act with the public’s best interests in mind,” O’Brochta said.

He noted that politicians can choose how they want to respond to political events. Some political events like terrorist attacks traditionally provoke an immediate response from elected politicians, but O’Brochta’s article is the first to examine whether unelected politicians respond in the same way.

“I found that because members of the House of Lords are unelected, they only have incentives to immediately respond to events that threaten their own position in office, not events that impact members of the public,” O’Brochta said. “Elections serve as the key reason that elected politicians feel the need to respond quickly to political events that are important to the public.”

O’Brochta’s broader research examines questions related to political representation, both in terms of how people select and view politicians and how politicians themselves act. In turn, this scholarly work influences his teaching and his interactions with students.

“Much of my work focuses on situations where members of the public feel that they are not effectively represented,” he said. “My goal when teaching is to help students explore the relationship between politicians and the public and then for them to apply these lessons to problems facing our local community.”

Pressure from constituents, O’Brochta said, influences how elected politicians respond to challenges. Unelected politicians – like those in the House of Lords – can take time to examine problems in a different way.

“Elected politicians have incentives to immediately respond to political events to demonstrate to their constituents that they are taking the situation seriously,” O’Brochta said. “Unelected politicians can operate free from pressure from constituents. They have time to collect information, to consult others, and to formulate policies and responses on their own timeline. That type of response might be more beneficial in some circumstances.

“As a result, people should think carefully about how elected politicians address policy issues and be less persuaded that a quick response is necessarily best. Politicians who take time to formulate a thoughtful and comprehensive response may be better able to serve constituents’ needs.”