Volume XXIX, Number 3
August 2004

Editor’s Introduction

       There has recently been a remarkable amount of research on the newly democratic legislatures of Latin America, some of it producing multicountry studies, some of it resulting in studies of single legislatures, but all of it providing material for institutional comparison. In the lead article in this issue, Brian F. Crisp and Felipe Botero review this significant body of work. They cover nine volumes in their survey, four of them explicitly comparative, five consisting of edited volumes focused on an aspect of legislative politics in a number of different countries. Together this proliferation of legislative research exhibits the variety of institutional designs that exist across Latin America, the variety of electoral systems, of intercameral relations, of party systems, and of legislative-executive relations. This research is of interest both to specialists on Latin American politics and to scholars pursuing comparative legislative research.         

        The review article focuses both on the relationships that exist between voters and their representatives and the relationships that exist between legislatures and other political institutions. Candidate selection procedures, electoral laws, and voter preferences, all of which vary interestingly across Latin American democracies, influence the first set of relationships. In turn these relationships affect the way legislators organize themselves within their institutions. The second set of relationships reveal an astonishing variety of constitutional arrangements, ranging from those that establish executive dominance to those that create effective checks and balances. Crisp and Botero suggest that this new body of legislative research provides an opportunity to rethink models of legislative behavior based solely on U.S. experience. They point out, for example, that the assumptions underlying Keith Krehbiel’s pivotal politics model need to be modified if applied to Latin American legislatures, to take account of the politically more fragmented legislative and executive branches that tend to exist on that continent compared to the United States. They conclude that “we should expect a more general model to yield widely divergent predictions regarding policy outcomes across institutional settings.” The research on Latin American legislatures therefore offers a valuable expansion of our knowledge of legislative institutions.

        Two articles in this issue deal with U.S. state legislatures. Gary F. Moncrief, Richard G. Niemi, and Lynda W. Powell bring us up-to-date on the long decline of turnover rates in these legislatures, taking into account the effect of term limits in one-third of the states and the increasing professionalization of members in many. With comprehensive data for the years 1971 to 2000 covering the legislative chambers in all 50 states, the authors show that average turnover rates have declined steadily since the 1930s, with a reversal coming in the 1990s in states adopting term limits. That reversal lowered the overall average turnover only slightly. Using a multivariate model, the authors specify how term limits variously affected turnover where they were enacted, ­depending on the degree of legislative professionalization, the impact of redistricting, the existence of multimember districts, and changes in the partisan climate of a state. One effect of term limits has been an increase in the movement of legislators from one house to the other. The consequences of term limits for the operation of legislatures are yet to be assessed.

        How do state legislators attempt to influence the bureaucracy? Christopher Reenock and Sarah Poggione provide answers to this question by analyzing the preferences of members of the lower houses of the legislatures of 24 states, expressed in a mail survey. They test the proposition that legislators prefer ex ante controls when they delegate authority to bureaucrats, that is, controls consisting of the specification of procedures and mandates, rather than engaging in more costly monitoring of bureaucrats after the fact. Analyzing members’ attitudes toward controlling state environmental agencies, they show that their preferences for ex ante controls vary considerably, with conservative legislators more likely to be satisfied with such controls than their liberal colleagues. Generally, this research concludes that state legislators’ satisfaction with ex ante controls is more limited than past research suggests, and that the use of other controls depends on the level of staff resources available to members.

        The next two articles in this issue deal with subjects of perennial interest to students of the U.S. Congress, party cohesion and representational linkage. Richard Forgette sheds new light on the influence of party in Congress by focusing on the activity of party caucuses rather than on roll-call behavior. Using fascinating new data on the minutes, frequency, timing, and member attendance at caucuses, Forgette employs what he calls a “coordination perspective” to demonstrate that party leaders use the party caucus as a strategic exchange of information that encourages voting cohesion. The data consist of attendance records of the House Republican Party Conference in meetings from 1987 to 1998 and data on the frequency of meetings and the timing of meetings of both the House Republican Conference and the Democratic Caucus over longer periods. The result is a new test of the effect of party in Congress. It shows that party organizational activity has increased as homogeneity of policy preferences within the parties has increased. It also demonstrates that caucus activity has an effect on party cohesion in floor votes independent of member policy preferences. The importance of this research is that it uses measures exogenous to roll-call votes to identify the sources of party voting.

        Ever since the path-breaking analysis of the representational linkage between members of the U.S. Congress and their constituents, published in 1963 by Warren E. Miller and Donald E. Stokes, there has been a steady stream of research clarifying and specifying that linkage and connecting it to the general concept of representation. J. Tobin Grant and Thomas J. Rudolph add another piece to our understanding of that linkage by using data from a new national survey conducted after the election of the year 2000. The authors show that the expectations that voters have of the job of their representative influence their approval of their member, beyond the propensity to favor members who share voters’ partisan and policy preferences. Citizens have varying expectations of members of Congress, and these expectations drive citizens’evaluations of both their members and of Congress as an institution.

        The final article in this issue takes the subject of the representation of women in legislatures to Sub-Saharan Africa. As women’s representation has risen gradually throughout the world’s legislatures, there is a great deal of variance from one country to another, stimulating research on the factors that influence representation by gender. Mi Yung Yoon investigates whether the factors that influence the representation of women elsewhere in the world also apply to African countries. It is the first study of female representation on a continent in which there has been substantial democratization since 1990. ­Examining women’s representation in the lower houses of the legislatures of 28 Sub-Saharan African countries designated as “free” by Freedom House, Yoon finds that among social, economic, and cultural variables, only her indicator of patriarchal culture affects women’s representation. That socioeconomic factors which influence women’s representation elsewhere have little effect in Africa, is due perhaps to the pervasive poverty on that continent, the narrowness of the education that women characteristically receive, and their isolation in low skill and low paying jobs. However, electoral systems influence women’s representation in Africa as they do everywhere else with various quota systems having the greatest positive impact and proportional representation also being a significant factor. Together, the articles in this issue of the Quarterly demonstrate the wide range of settings in which legislative research is being conducted today.

                                                                             —Gerhard Loewenberg


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