Representatives as delegates, trustees, and politicos | US government and civics | Khan Academy

Representatives as delegates, trustees, and politicos | US government and civics | Khan Academy

– [Instructor] What we’re
going to do in this video is talk about congressional roles. Now, what do I mean by
congressional roles? Well, whether someone is a member of the house of representatives,
or the senate, or even one of the state legislatures, there’s different ways that they can act on behalf of the people
that they are representing. One way is to just be a delegate. And that’s to say, okay,
what would my people that I’m trying to
represent want me to do, and then to do exactly that. The other role is to be a trustee. And this is the idea of,
well there’s some issues where either the people in my
district don’t have an opinion or maybe if they
superficially looked at it they would want to vote one way, but I, as a representative, as a trustee, I can dig a little bit
deeper into the nuances and realize what’s actually
better for the people that I represent, or for
a country as a whole. So, one way to think about it, a delegate would get a sense of the people that they represent, and
what they would want, and just do that. While a trustee would say,
okay what do I believe is best either for the people
that I’m representing or for the country as a whole. And sometimes they
obviously could coincide. And the third type of role is politico. Now, the everyday definition
for politico is a politician. And sometimes it’s used in
the not-so-favorable sense. But in the context of,
especially in a government class, a politico is a representative who does a little bit of both
depending on the situation. If there’s something that the
people that they represent care a lot about, something
that the constituents care a lot about, well
there they would say, okay, you know what, I’m just gonna vote the way they want me to vote, even if I don’t necessarily agree with it, because it matters to them a lot, so there I’m gonna be a delegate. But on the things that really matter to me or that don’t matter so
much to my constituents, well, there I’m going to be a trustee. So you could view a politico
as a bit of a hybrid. So with that out of the way,
let’s look at some scenarios, and think about whether
these are describing a representative as a delegate,
a trustee, or a politico. So let’s start with this first one. It says, there is a vote on a bill in the House of Representatives that
would increase environmental regulations on major businesses. Several citizens in Illinois’
9th congressional district have contacted their
representative to influence him to vote in favor of the bill. However, Representative Wallin thinks that these regulations will cost
businesses too much money, which will lead businesses
to firing his constituents, so he decides to vote against it. So pause this video, and so,
is Representative Way-lin, or Wall-in, acting as a delegate, a trustee, or a politico? So the key clues here are,
that Representative Way-lin, or Wall-in, decides to
vote against the bill despite the fact that
some of his constituents have contacted him to
vote in favor of the bill. And so here is clearly acting
based on his own beliefs, so he is acting as a trustee. He’s doing what he thinks is
best for his constituents, even though they might not agree with him. Let’s look at another scenario. In the Senate, there is a vote on a bill that would eliminate the penny. Citizens in Indiana reach
out to their Senator to encourage her to support the bill. Even though Senator Portela thinks the penny is incredibly useful, she decides to vote for the bill. So pause this video, think about how is Senator Portela acting? As a delegate, trustee, or politico? Well, it’s pretty clear that she’s doing exactly what her
constituents want her to do. The constituents are encouraging her to support the bill
and she votes the bill. And she’s doing this despite what she thinks is the better option. Even though she likes the penny, she’s going to vote to eliminate the penny because that’s what her constituents want. So she is clearly acting as a delegate. And to be clear, and
this is often the case, many times the representative will agree with their constituents
and then in that situation they’re acting as both a
delegate and a trustee. Now let’s look at one more scenario. There are two major bills up for a vote in the Indiana state senate. One bill will change the
name of a high school in Indianapolis to Larry Bird High School. The other bill would set aside 100-acres for a new state park. Senator Kamath has
received about 1200 calls from her constituents asking her to support the bill to
rename the high school, but no calls about the park bill. Senator Kamath is incredibly
passionate about parks, but has not decided her vote on the renaming of the high school. Senator Kamath decides to vote
in favor of the park bill, using her better judgement
to decide her vote, and in favor of changing
the name of the high school to represent her constituents’ interests. So you, once again,
should pause this video, and figure out is Senator Kamath acting as a delegate, trustee, or politico? Well, you can see on the park
bill, which she supports, so she votes in favor of the park bill. She does that because that’s
just what she thinks is better, she’s using her better judgement. So in that scenario she’s
acting as a trustee. She’s doing what she thinks is right. And then on the naming the high school Larry Bird High School, there she just says, hey, you know what, I don’t have a strong opinion of it, I am just going to represent
my constituents interests. And so there she’s clearly
acting as a delegate. And so the scenario where
sometimes you act as a delegate, sometimes you act as a trustee, this is sometimes categorized,
or often categorized, especially in a government
class, as a politico, which as I mentioned before
is really just a term often used for a politician. And you can imagine it’s very natural for a politician to
sometimes act as a delegate, hey I’ve got to make
my constituents happy, let me do exactly what they want me to do. But every now and then
my constituents either might not care about an issue, or they might not realize
all of the details or all of the implecations,
and so I might do something that’s maybe not exactly what they want. And in those scenarios,
well then I’m just gonna, I’m just gonna vote my conscience. And if I do a little bit of both, on different types of issues, well then I’m acting as a politico.


  1. Is there a word for when they just have contempt for what their constituents want, and vote the opposite just to spite them safe in the knowledge they can't lose in their gerrymandered district?

  2. Curious about the interpretation of the last example. If a representative has not received a mandate or strong position from the constituency, or if there is a clear lack of concensus, is a representative acting as a politico when the vote comes to cast a vote? Should they be expected to abstain from voting unless there is an expressed opinion, or is that in some way implicit instruction from the people to act as a trustee in this case?

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