Volume XXX, Number 1
February 2005

Editor’s Introduction


        The first two articles in this issue of the Quarterly apply game theory to the inter-institutional relationships of legislatures. While both deal with U.S. legislatures, the methods they employ are also relevant to cross-national research and have been applied there. The first of these two articles explores the reciprocal relationship between the U.S. Congress and the Supreme Court, a classic subject in American politics that has received renewed attention in part because of the attraction of using game theory to study it. The article examines the influences that determine whether and when Congress will attempt to override a Supreme Court decision. Using a “multiple veto” separation-of-powers model, Virginia A. Hettinger and Christopher Zorn analyze 609 civil rights decisions rendered between 1967 and 1989, 42 of which were in some sense overridden by Congress. With data on the policy position of the Justices and of the key congressional actors, they hypothesize that overrides will occur only when that would make at least one key congressional actor better off. Drawing on evidence of the salience of cases, measured by amicus curiae briefs, the actions of losing litigants, whether the court decision is unanimous, whether it constitutes the reversal of a lower court decision, and the complexity of the case, they separate the probability of an override from the length of time until an override occurs. With a “cure model” derived from the biometric literature, they conclude that it is not ideological differences between key congressional actors and the Court that determine how long it takes before there is an override, but rather the salience of the case. The article is interesting not only for what it tells us about the “continuing colloquy” between Court and Congress in the United States, but because of its applicability to the relationship between constitutional courts and national legislatures in other countries, where such courts have proliferated in the last half century.

        Game theory is also responsible for a renewed interest in bicameralism, both cross-nationally and across the U.S. states. James R. Rogers applies it in a continuation of his research into what he has called the “first-mover advantage,” his finding that the chamber that originates legislation in U.S. state legislatures achieves an outcome closer to the preference of its median member than does the chamber that votes second. In his article in this issue, he investigates the factors that give a legislative chamber this strategic advantage. With data for 23 different states for sessions from 1981 to 1993, Rogers shows that the larger the size of a house, the lower its turnover of members, the higher its staffing levels, and the greater the number of joint committees, the higher its capacity to originate legislation and obtain the outcome its members prefer.

        The third article in this issue is an example of the application of concepts and theories derived from research on the U.S. Congress to the study of legislatures outside the United States. Nathan F. Batto investigates the electoral connection of members of the Taiwanese legislature, distinguishing the reelection strategies of members whose support is narrowly concentrated in a few precincts from those whose support is more widespread. He hypothesizes that members with focused support will seek committee assignments with rent-seeking opportunities to help them to finance the expense of maintaining their organizational base, which members with widespread support do not need. He compares the committee assignments of members with different distributions of electoral support across the precincts in their constituencies between 1992 and 2001, distinguishing between “money committees” that can provide members with “rents” and other committees that do not. He also distinguishes between legislators from single-member districts, who are elected by the single-transferable vote that strongly encourages members to seek a personal vote, and members elected from party lists. Batto provides evidence that after controlling for alternative variables, vote concentration offers a significant explanation of legislators’ committee choices. His research adds to our general understanding of the connection between behavior within the legislature and behavior in the constituencies and makes an explicit contribution to comparative legislative research.       

        Four articles in this issue add to our understanding of familiar aspects of the U.S. Congress. The first of these offers a new explanation of the fluctuations in public evaluations of the Congress. As we know, these evaluations are generally negative and are influenced by people’s partisan attachments. But how has the increasing partisan polarization of U.S. politics affected Congress’s reputation? Using congressional approval ratings between 1990 and 2000 from the National Election Studies and content analysis of the headlines from The New York Times as a measure of elite-level partisan conflict, David C. Kimball finds that the level of partisan conflict mutes or amplifies the effect of partisanship on public evaluations of Congress. Not surprisingly, the best-informed members of the public are most affected by the level of partisanship. Thus, public evaluations of Congress are changeable and change with the national political environment. But the least knowledgeable members of the public are least influenced by shifts in the partisan climate and are, on the whole, the most continuously positive in their evaluations of Congress. As other research has shown, the more attentive members of the public are the most critical of Congress because their expectations are uninformed by an understanding of the role of partisanship, compromise, and conflict in the democratic legislative process. To increase public support for Congress as an institution, it may be necessary to encourage not only civic attention but also civic understanding of the characteristics of the legislative process.

        Another classic subject not just in congressional research but also in legislative research generally is the relationship between the personal characteristics of legislators and their policy positions. William T. Bianco looks into an aspect of that subject that is of special current interest. Does the military experience of members of Congress affect their policy positions on defense and foreign policy issues? Many scholars and many decision makers have thought so. In the last generation there has been a large decline in the proportion of members who are veterans. Has this made a difference to policy outcomes? Bianco analyzes the influence of military experience on 50 defense and foreign policy votes in the 1990s and eight additional House votes in the 1970s. Using three different analytical strategies to cope with the problem of testing a no-effects hypothesis, he concludes that military experience had no influence on these votes either in the 1990s or twenty years earlier. His finding suggests that the decline of congressional military experience has no policy consequences. The article is a contribution to the general question of the influence of personality characteristics on legislative behavior.

        Members of Congress tend to vote the same way on an issue over time, but their vote history does not always control their decision. Scott R. Meinke sheds light on the circumstances that bring about change by his study of the repeated votes cast by members on raising the minimum wage. Using an event history analysis, he analyzes 11 roll calls on this issue between 1949 and 2000 and finds that a member’s propensity to change is small and diminishes over time. The probability of abandoning support of the minimum wage rises when a member’s party loses control of the presidency, and also with an increase in a member’s electoral security in his district and with cross pressures. Strong labor union interests in the district decrease the probability of change. An increase in real wages turns members to favor it. By examining change in the position of members on a recurring issue, this case study makes an interesting contribution to our understanding of the influence of time on the representational behavior of individual members.

Partisanship has a previously undiscovered influence on what had been regarded as one of the most individual aspects of Congressional behavior, giving “one-minute” speeches before the start of the session. Douglas B. Harris discovers that while individual motivations are important, there is considerable party coordination of “one-minute” speeches. The author bases his analysis of speeches in the House of Representatives in 1990 on a unique archive of the memoranda of the Democratic Message Board, a party organization designed to coordinate one-minute speeches in the House to promote party messages. In the time period he studied, Harris found that more than one-third of these speeches were orchestrated to support seven specific party message campaigns.

        Thus, of the four articles in this issue dealing with the U.S. Congress, the first and last provide new evidence of the influence of partisanship, while the second and third add to our understanding of the influence of the personal attributes of members.

                                                                                         —Gerhard Loewenberg

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