XXXI, Number 3
This issue opens with a unique cross-national analysis of the degree of
centralization of procedures in legislative chambers. Existing research, done
largely on procedural change in
legislatures over time, proceeds from the hypothesis that the choice of
procedures is determined by the changing policy preferences of members.
Departing from that approach, Andrew J. Taylor uses data on 55 legislative
chambers at one point in time to test the influence of factors external to
legislatures on their procedures. It is the kind of comparative analysis that
Gerald Gamm and John Huber called for in their assessment of the state of
legislative research (2002).
arrays legislative procedures from those that exhibit centralized control by
leaders to those that allow rank-and-file members extensive rights. As
indicators, he uses members’ rights to introduce bills, to move amendments,
and to speak without limitation. The exogenous factors he considers are the size
of the legislature, the power of the legislature over the executive, and the
extent to which the electoral system allows for a personal vote.
finds that smaller legislatures have more decentralized procedures than larger
ones and that this is also true of more powerful (and unicameral) legislatures.
He also finds that, in some instances, the existence of a personal vote provides
an incentive for procedural decentralization. The author recognizes that he has
used very simple measures of his key variables, and that better data and data
over time will be needed to examine this subject further. In the meantime,
however, his analysis demonstrates the advantages of comparative research on the
differences that exist in procedural centralization among the world’s
legislatures has long been concerned with the effect of membership turnover on
legislative institutionalization and on legislative policymaking. Congressional
turnover is extremely low by worldwide standards, and turnover in
state legislatures has been declining (although it varies from state to state).
Low turnover has prompted term limits on the assumption that low turnover causes
legislators to be unresponsive to their constituents. Two articles in this issue
raise questions about this assumption. Gerard Padró i Miquel and James M.
Snyder, Jr. explore the effect of length of tenure on the “effectiveness” of
legislators, using an unusual set of data that exists for members of the North
Carolina House of Representatives. The measure of “effectiveness” is a
rating based on a survey of members, lobbyists, and journalists. The authors
find that the effectiveness of legislators increases over time as a result of
“learning by doing.” In addition, they find that members of the majority are
more effective than members of the minority, that effective legislators move
into leadership positions, and that effectiveness improves members’ reelection
chances. These conclusions indicate that long tenure has desirable consequences
and that ineffective legislators are likely to lose out even without term
Michael C. Herron and Kenneth W. Shotts take an entirely different approach to
the study of the effect of legislative tenure on policymaking. They model the
effect of term limits on legislative spending over two terms, assuming that
voters will prefer legislators who provide benefits to their districts but
spread the costs to other districts. If that is the case, term limits may hinder
voters from choosing legislators known to provide benefits, thus reducing
spending. However, term limits may actually promote wasteful spending—spending
that incurs long-term costs for a district but benefits other districts. For
example, legislators who know they cannot win reelection have a reduced
incentive to limit future spending. This counter-intuitive conclusion is another
reason to be skeptical of term limits and to see the value of longer legislative
All observers know that the equal representation of the states in the U.S.
Senate results in the overrepresentation of citizens living in states with small
populations. However, another inequality of representation results from the
unequal distribution—across the states—of politically relevant groups like
racial and ethnic minorities. That is the subject of the article by John D.
Griffin. He analyzes the interaction between the malapportionment of seats in
the Senate and the distribution across the states of attitudes on political
issues, of racial and ethnic minorities, and of the voting preferences of both
Senators and their constituents. Griffin shows that equal representation of
states in the Senate—regardless of their population—coupled with the
distribution of racial, ethnic, and political groups across the states, tends to
diminish the influence of liberals, Democrats, African Americans, and Latinos.
That is because states with less voting weight—states with above average
populations—tend to be composed of racial and ethnic minorities, voters with
liberal attitudes, and voters with Democratic party identifications.
finds that this malapportionment has increased in the last two decades of the
20th century due to population movements. Although it has not affected Senate
votes on most ideological issues, it has affected votes on issues of most
concern to minorities. Thus, the residential patterns of certain historically
disadvantaged groups further weaken their political influence.
Religion plays a larger role in
politics than it does in most advanced industrialized countries. By a close
analysis of its influence in the Wisconsin legislature, David Yamane and
Elizabeth A. Oldmixon illuminate its effect on issues that are important in the
states—issues such as social welfare, health, capital punishment, and
abortion. The authors develop a refined measure of religion that considers, not
only the religious affiliation of legislators, but also the salience of religion
to each member. The extent of contact between each legislator and religious
advocacy groups is also considered in their measure. Using structural equation
models to test the influence of these indicators of religion on general voting
and voting on issues known to be related to religion (e.g., that of abortion),
the authors find that religion affects legislative decisions indirectly through
partisan affiliation and through education—even on the issue of abortion.
Interest groups reinforce, rather than shape, legislators’ votes. Religious
salience has the most direct influence on voting. Conservative Protestant
identification is related to policy conservatism through Republican party
affiliation. Their findings help explain why the Republican party frames issues
in a manner that attracts conservative Protestants.
Gamm, Gerald, and John Huber. 2002.
“Legislatures as Political Institutions: Beyond the Contemporary Congress.”
In Political Science: The State of the Discipline, ed. Ira Katznelson and
Helen V. Milner.
: W.W. Norton.
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