Volume XXXI, Number 1
February 2006

 

Introduction

            It was long the conventional wisdom that political parties were weak in the U.S. Congress but strong in legislatures outside the United States . In the last generation, new scholarship has questioned both of these propositions. Extensive research has revealed that even in the most party-disciplined, established European parliaments there is some variation in party cohesion. Research on newly democratic parliaments has shown considerable variation in the role that parties play in them. There has also been renewed interest in the role of parties in the U.S. Congress, partly in response to Keith Krebiehl’s skepticism about party effects, partly due to a reexamination of all aspects of what was called the “textbook Congress.” This issue of the Quarterly exemplifies the strong interest in this classic subject of research: the role of parties in legislatures.

            Thomas Remington investigates party influence in the Russian State Duma in an effort to determine the role of party factions in challenging presidential domination over parliament. He notes that the Russian case has parallels in many newly democratic Latin American countries. Remington explains that executive-legislative relations in Russia have in the past been influenced by the mixed-member electoral system that existed until last year, as well as by the characteristics of a president-parliamentary system that requires presidents to bargain with the legislature to enact their program. In the third Duma which sat from 2000 to 2003, Vladimir Putin had a narrow and unreliable majority among the deputies of the coalition of four factions that he had assembled. Remington examines the voting records of these deputies and shows that some factions consistently supported the president because of an ideological affinity with his program while others yielded to the electoral interests of their members, requiring the president to trade policy favors for their support. The overwhelming victory of the president’s party in the 2003 election gave Putin effective control of the Duma and led him to institutionalize that control through a change in the electoral system that eliminates the single-member constituencies whose members had imposed the most serious bargaining costs on him. Thus, the brief history of parties in the Russian parliament shows their profound effect on the balance between executive and legislative power.

            The influence of party in the U.S. Congress is more subtle and more difficult to determine. It is difficult to disentangle the effect of the individual member’s preferences from party and constituency influence because there are only two parties and member preferences, constituency interest, and party interest overlap. There are both conceptual and measurement problems in isolating party influence under these conditions. It is difficult to infer from members’ individual votes whether they are swayed by partisan considerations independent of their personal or constituency preferences, or to explain why they would be. Eric D. Lawrence, Forrest Maltzman, and Steven Smith approach the subject by comparing four theories of congressional decision making from which they develop four models of how party and individual preferences may affect vote outcomes. They determine which model best fits congressional votes by testing the implications of each model with data on the percentage of time that each member voted with the majority between 1979 and 1998. They find that outcomes are not at the chamber median as the individual preference model would predict but they tend to be on the majority party’s side of that median. They conclude that the data best fit a majority party agenda-control model of congressional voting.

            Craig Volden and Elizabeth Bergman raise a related issue. Under what circumstances would legislators in the United States unite to vote as a cohesive partisan bloc since member preferences play such a strong role in this country? The authors hypothesize that individual member’s preferences may sometimes be best served by party unity and investigate the circumstances where this might be the case. They suggest that party cohesion can produce shifts in outcomes toward the party center and can limit shifts toward the opposing party and that may best serve individual members under some circumstances. The authors develop a model that takes into account a variety of conditions that may promote party cohesion and test its predictions against data on party unity in the U.S. Senate for over a century, from 1879 to 1996. They find that party cohesion is endogenously chosen when members find that by uniting they can serve their constituents best. Because they have data over a very long span of time, the authors find evidence of the variety of circumstances when that unity has been attractive to members: when the other party is cohesive; when the party has lost seats; when the party has gained majority control; and when the requirements for breaking a filibuster change. Finally, they have evidence that conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans are relatively averse to partisan pressures. Their research reveals a pattern of variation in party unity in the Senate that now needs to be compared with party unity in the House.

            The final article in this issue provides the most comprehensive analysis yet undertaken of the effect of term limits on legislators, a reform that swept across the states of the United States in the 1990s. Its results have had a variety of unanticipated consequences. The article by John M. Carey, Richard G. Niemi, Lynda W. Powell, and Gary F. Moncrief reports data from a mail survey of all legislators in all 50 states. It shows that term limits, which had been in effect in 19 chambers across 11 states at the time of the survey, had no effect on the type of legislators being elected. The absence of effects on the composition of legislatures contrasts with the expectations of those who had advocated the reform. But term-limited legislators appear by their own reports to behave differently from those not subject to that limit. They say that they pay less attention to their constituents, even while still eligible for reelection, than those who have no limits. Above all, term limits have weakened the legislature in relation to the executive, because term limits erode the power of majority party leaders and committee chairs, those institutional actors who can most effectively challenge state governors. That was probably not the reform’s intention.

 

—Gerhard Loewenberg,                                          

Director, Comparative Legislative Research Center

 

 

We are pleased to announce the appointment of Brian Crisp of Washington University, St. Louis as the Legislative Studies Quarterly’s new editor for manuscripts dealing with non-U.S. legislative topics. Although articles edited by Gerhard Loewenberg will continue to appear in these pages for several forthcoming issues, this is an appropriate moment to acknowledge our indebtedness to him as he relinquishes responsibility for newly submitted manuscripts. More than thirty years ago Jerry, along with a few esteemed colleagues in the profession, conceived of and founded the Quarterly. Since the inception of the journal, in addition to his responsibilities as co-editor, Jerry has played a significant role in its organization and management. He has been a steadying and guiding force helping LSQ achieve and maintain the reputation it now holds in the profession. We appreciate the devotion Jerry has given LSQ throughout his career and look forward to having him continue as a member of our Editorial Board and as Director of the Comparative Legislative Research Center which manages the journal.

Beginning February 1, 2006 manuscripts dealing with non-U.S. topics should be submitted to Professor Brian Crisp, Department of Political Science, Washington University, St. Louis, Campus Box 1063, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130 or emailed to him at complsq@wustl.edu. Phone: (314) 935-4724; Fax: (314)935-5856.
                                                                                                                                                              — C. Lawrence Evans
                                                                                                                                                                   Peverill Squire
                                                                                                                                                                   Michelle L. Wiegand


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