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“You Represent ME, Dammit!!!!”

One of the most misunderstood and abused aspects about elected officials is that it is her or his job to represent the individual. The deeper you dig into that concept, the more absurd it becomes. Even under minimal consideration, the idea is ridiculous. How can one person represent the individual needs, wants, and hopes of every citizen?

A Representative Democracy:  Senators of the 117th Congress

Simple Explanations Fail a Representative Democracy

A representative democracy, or a republic, is a very complex idea, formed over thousands of years. It allows individuals to have a say in his or her laws, rules, and policies, but it does not mean that every individual will be satisfied with the outcome.

However, many people think that politicians are to represent only their point of view. That explanation fails to describe the actual responsibilities of an elected official.

Unfortunately, those with limited education may prefer simpler explanations of complex concepts. News media and public relations professionals often ‘dumb down’ information to a sixth-grade reading level. If they don’t, that person may not stay engaged and fail to grasp the information.

However, a simple explanation may pacify a person’s need to know, but fail to adequately inform. This gives a false feeling that one understands the full scope of the problem or idea; however, this is not the case

The Dunning-Kruger Effect on a Citizen’s Competence

Understanding the role of an elected official based on a citizen’s knowledge of a representative democracy

In 1995, a man spread lemon juice on his face and robbed two banks, believing that the lemon juice would make his face invisible to security cameras. He knew that lemon juice could be used as invisible ink on paper and he was confident it would work the same on his face. This is an example of illusory superiority studied by David Dunning and Justin Kruger. Their work led to the theory of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect indicates that a person’s confidence in understanding a concept or problem leaps upon learning a little information. Confidence typically drops significantly with more information; however, confidence then improves as the person becomes more informed.

The common misunderstanding a representative democracy is a good example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Most citizens have a simple understanding of the role of an elected official. They may believe that the role of a politician is to represent only his or her interests. This belief can result in dissatisfaction when a politician doesn’t appease their point of view. 

What IS the Role of an Elected Official in a Representative Democracy?

An elected official is to represent the best interests of all of the citizens in his/her district. Not only the ones that voted for her or him but all the citizens. It may be obvious, but not everyone holds the same values, nor has the same vision, so some may not agree with every choice a politician makes on their behalf.

But a representative democracy has further complications. If any of the citizens sought to create laws and policies that could potentially harm others, a politician should not assist them. For example, if a group of citizens sought a law to require three eyewitnesses to a rape, a politician would be wrong to represent that point of view. It would mean that almost every rape would be unprovable in court and all women would be at risk. Even if it is the view of the majority, a politician is duty-bound to act in the best interest of all citizens.

A politician’s role can be stated simply; however, it differs from common beliefs:

An elected official’s role is to serve the best interests of her or his constituency to the best of their ability, ignoring political ideologies, biases of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, or creed.