Richard Fenno (1978) has written about representation as a process of “negotiation” between representatives and their constituents. Representation reflects a combination of individual member goals, career sequence, and the constituent context. Members of Congress have multiple goals—re-election, influence within Congress, and making good public policy—and the weight a member assigns to those goals affects how he/she interacts with constituents. The stage of a member’s career, also affects the negotiation between representatives and constituents. Early in a member’s career, he or she must focus on building support for re-election, and so is more attentive to constituents. As a member’s career progresses and, he or she enjoys widespread name recognition and stable support for reelection, he or she can focus less on the district and more gaining influence within Congress or developing public policy goals. Finally, context, specifically the composition of the district in terms of partisanship, geographical character (rural, urban, suburban), and the demographics of the voters, affects the relationships. Members must be particularly attentive to context after decennial redistricting, when population shifts and the redrawing of district lines may cause them to have to build relationships with new constituents, much like they did when they were first elected to Congress.
Moreover, Fenno observes that representatives have different types of constituencies: the geographical constituency encompasses the boundaries of district; the re-election constituency consists of supporters who vote for the representative (often defined in terms of parts of the district); the primary constituents are the strongest supporters, or those who are most loyal (often considered the “base” of support); and the personal constituency consists of close friends, relatives or associates a member speaks with directly and frequently (for some members, the personal constituency consists of campaign volunteers and donors). Finally, the constituency for some members of Congress transcends the geographical and electoral components of a district and consists of particular groups of people defined by their race or gender. For instance, African American representatives may have an inclination to act on behalf of all African Americans, not just those in their district. (Fenno 2003)
Given all of these considerations, representation is likely to vary from member to member. Fenno identifies several different ways through which representatives present themselves to constituents: personal associations, local political leanings, political party, policy expertise, public service, or leadership. Representation is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon, which adapts to changing political and demographic circumstances across a member’s career.