Volume XXVI, Number 3
August 2001

Editor’s Introduction

 

        The first three articles in this issue report new research on aspects of the U.S. Congress that are the subject of continuing scholarly controversy: the role of political parties in that body, the bias that results from having an equal number of Senators for each state regardless of its population, and the reasons why the proportion of women in legislative office in the United States continues to be so small.

        The role of parties in Congress has been rigorously analyzed in recent research, and is nevertheless intensely disputed. The opening article in this issue is an ingenious new test of the proposition that parties matter. Keith Krehbiel and Alan Wiseman reexamine the role of party leadership in the House of Representatives with a case study of that leadership at its presumed height: the years 1903 to 1911 when Joseph G. Canon was Speaker of the House. Rejecting measures of partisanship based on roll-call votes, they use as their dependent variable a new measure developed by Timothy Groseclose and Charles Stewart: the value of seats on legislative committees as indicated by members’ transfers from one committee to another. They find that both seniority and belonging to the majority party gave members more valuable committee assignments during the years of Canon’s rule, but they discover little evidence that members who voted against the views of the Speaker suffered in their committee assignments. They also take satisfaction in the evidence that party played an even greater role in giving members valuable committee assignments after the revolt again Speaker Cannon’s authority in 1910 than during his dominance. Their conclusion is that far from having been an authoritarian party leader, Speaker Canon was merely implementing majority rule. That conclusion is consistent with Krehbiel’s view that Congress is a majoritarian rather than a partisan body.

        The equal representation of states in the United States Senate introduces a clearly recognized partisan bias, one whose effect varies with the distribution of the popular vote within and across states. Franco Mattei reexamines previous studies of that bias that have made much on its changing effect on party fortunes. He focuses on contested Senate elections between 1918 and 1998 and uses a measure of bias that compares the proportion of the national vote received by all Republican Senatorial candidates with the mean proportion of the vote received by these candidates in the states. He also simulates the effect that would be obtained if states’ representation in the Senate were equal to their congressional districts. He concludes that the partisan bias due to the equal representation of the states in the Senate is much smaller than previously thought.

        The continuing, sharp disparity between the proportion of men and women in elective office in the United States is still not well  explained. Research indicates that women do not suffer compared to men in electoral support nor in the ability to raise campaign funds. But far fewer women than men compete for office. Richard L. Fox, Jennifer L. Lawless, and Courtney Feeley investigate the reasons that seem to discourage women from becoming candidates. With data from a mail questionnaire to an equal number of women and men in New York State whose professional background matched that of members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the authors found that women and men had similar levels of ambition to seek public office and were similarly involved in the kinds of activities associated with office. However, women were less likely than men to receive outside encouragement to become candidates, and were more dependent than men on having substantive credentials like law degrees, membership in relevant interest groups, and elective experience as students—credentials that they were less likely than men to possess. Thus the authors find evidence that aspects of sex role socialization continue to deter women from competing for elective office.

        The next two articles in this issue deal with U.S. state legislatures. David L. Schechter and David M. Hedge add to the literature on party finance of state legislative races with an analysis of the ­distribution of campaign funds in Florida in the late 1990s, a state that is increasingly competitive politically. The authors go beyond ­previous work by asking not only how state-level funding affects election outcomes but also how it affects the capacity of parties after ­election to maintain cohesion and to govern. With data on party funding of individual candidacies in 1996 and 1998, the authors show that parties distributed funds to those races in which they would have maximum electoral effect, but that this pattern of funding did nothing to promote party cohesion subsequently in the legislature. In short, party finance affects election outcomes but not the capacity of elected parties to govern. 

        In the second half of the 20th century, one of the most important changes in U.S. politics was the transformation of Democratic Party dominance in the South into the dominance of the Republican Party in that region. Aubrey W. Jewett presents a pooled time-series analysis of the determinants of the changing election outcomes in the 11 states of the former Confederacy between 1946 and 1995. He tests seven different theories of electoral change and makes a point of considering the liberalism of Democratic elites as an endogenous variable itself affected by other variables in his model rather than an external influence. He explains Republican strength in the legislature and the liberalism of the state’s Democratic congressional delegation by the states’ wealth, the influx of Northerners, its level of urbanization, the proportion of African Americans in its population, the ­passage of the Voting Rights Act, and its political culture. His comprehensive model also takes account of a range of other political factors including national events. The results show that partisan change in the South was an ongoing process that did not proceed in a single direction. It was affected by changes in the racial composition of these states, their increasing wealth, their urbanization, and the reaction at the state level against increasing liberalism among the states’ Democratic members of Congress, itself the product of increasing African-American influence in the Democratic Party. The complex picture that emerges,  interpreted in broad theoretical terms, relates partisan change in the South to partisan change across the country.

        The final article in this issue uses the concept of legislators’ “home style” to evaluate legislator-constituency linkage in Colombia, a country known for the violence and corruption of its politics. Rachael E. Ingall and Brian F. Crisp test propositions derived from research in the United States, taking into account the electoral system in Colombia as well as the differences in the individual characteristics of  legislators that affect home style in the U.S. They explain the frequency with which legislators visit their constituencies, as a measure of their “home style,” by the size of their constituencies, the geographic concentration of their voting support, and their electoral dominance and vulnerability. The authors’ conclusion is that Colombian legislators maintain close contact with their constituencies for reasons broadly similar to those found in the United States, but they see that as a contribution to clientilistic rather than representational politics in the Colombian context. Their work demonstrates the value of applying concepts and theories developed in one country to illuminate the politics of another.

                                                                                                                          —Gerhard Loewenberg


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