Can a U.S. Senator know what state residents want?

Whoever is elected to fill the Senate seat held by Olympia Snowe, he or she will make many hundreds of votes.  Recently independent Senate candidate Angus King said, “I don’t want anybody telling me how to vote except the people of Maine.”

King’s comment has to do with his stated commitment to not be influenced by a political party. Yet it also raises a question: Can a U.S. Senator know how most state citizens want him or her to vote?

Here’s what former Senator Warren Rudman (Republican-New Hampshire), said:

I never knew what they thought. Does anybody?. . . I would vote thirty-one times some days in the United States Senate. . . On 99.9 percent of the issues you don’t know what your constituency thinks. You know what some people who wrote to you think of you, but these are people who generally feel strongly about the issue.*

Since our Senators don’t really know — after all, state-wide polls are rare — they are always making judgments about what they think is best. Those judgments are affected by their political perspectives.

Senators are there both to represent views (which are hard to discern) and to act on behalf of what they see as constituents’ interests. As Senator Rudman put it:

If you can tell me how my constituents feel on a particular issue, I would be delighted to consider — unless I had violent objections to their decision — casting a vote on behalf of their view.*

Citizens thus must choose elected representatives based on the legislators’ views and values, for these will affect how they vote on legislation.


*From an interview I conducted for Muffled Echoes (Columbia University Press, 1997); quote can be found on p. 185.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.