Volume XXXII, Number 1
February 2007

 

Introduction

 

        The relative influence of party and constituency on legislators is a persistent subject of research and is the subject of each of the first four articles in this issue of the Quarterly. In general, the influence of party is dominant in Europe while in the United States there has historically been an interplay between the influence of party and constituency. This is also true in developing countries where local interests are strong and parties are new. Eastern Europe is a special case. For 40 years until 1989 the Communist party completely dominated legislatures. When competitive politics reappeared, the once dominant communist parties stood in an awkward relationship to the newly democratic ones. That relationship is the subject of the article by James N. Druckman and Andrew Roberts which opens this issue.

        The authors assess the role of communist successor parties in the newly democratic parliaments of Eastern Europe. They analyze the formation of coalition governments in 15 of these countries from their first competitive elections through 2002. They discover an unusual interparty relationship that is not surprising in view of the historic animosity between the communist parties and their democratic counterparts. Although they continue to play a substantial role in many countries, communist successor parties are seldom included in governing coalitions. When they are included, they tend to be parts of oversized coalitions in which their participation is not decisive and in which they receive less than their proportional share of ministries. As in other European countries, the parliaments of Eastern Europe are party dominated, but the parties that ruled in the past are marginalized, creating a distinctive interparty relationship that may apply to newly democratic parliaments in other parts of the world as well.

        In the early years of democracy in the United States, the relative influence of party and constituency on Congress varied by issue. This is illustrated by Scott R. Meinke in a case study of the rise and fall of the "gag rule" that existed in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1836 and 1845. That rule prevented members from even considering the abolition of slavery or the slave trade. It had been formulated by the Democratic majority against Whig opposition in the House. Meinke shows that its demise was the result of constituency pressure coming mainly from northern districts, particularly vulnerable Democratic ones. The case exemplifies the conditional nature of party influence in Congress in a country in which sectional interests have always been strong.

        Because the influence of party in Congress is conditional, its independent effect is difficult to measure. Garry Young and Vicky Wilkins offer a particularly severe test of the influence of party in the U.S. House of Representatives by comparing members’ votes on final passage of legislation with their votes on "closed rules" that prohibit amendments to that legislation. A closed rule benefits the median position of the majority party, reflected in the committee version of a bill, since it prevents members from moving amendments on the floor. The authors infer that members reveal the influence that party has on them if they vote against a piece of legislation, showing they oppose it, but vote for the closed rule to protect their party’s position. The analysis of these vote switchers uses data on all 55 pairs of votes between 1995 and 2004 that permit a comparison between members’ votes on the closed rule and on final passage. The authors show that members of the majority party are far more likely than are members of the minority to switch their votes and thus to support party control even when they oppose the legislation.

        Since parties are nowhere homogeneous, evidence of the influence of party on legislative behavior does not define the content of that influence. A distinction must always be made between party activists and mere party voters. In the United States, that distinction can be drawn between voters in primary elections who tend to support more extreme positions and voters in general elections who are more moderate. David W. Brady, Hahrie Han, and Jeremy C. Pope analyze primary and general election outcomes between 1958 and 1998 to determine whether candidates for the U.S. House are more responsive to their primary constituency than to their general voting constituency. Using the vote for presidential candidates as a measure of the position of the general constituency and scores derived from legislative votes as a measure of candidate ideology, they show that Democratic congressional candidates are more liberal, and Republicans more conservative, than their general constituencies. Looking at election outcomes, they also show that moderate candidates tend to attract primary challengers and to be vulnerable to defeat. Congressional candidates therefore face a strategic dilemma, torn between the views of their primary constituency and their general constituency. They respond by being more responsive to their primary constituency, especially since the social movements of the 1960s and 1970s led to an increase in the number of incumbents defeated in the primaries. This finding helps to explain the increasing polarization between the parties in Congress.

        Research on legislatures has regularly explored the substantive importance of descriptive representation, of having members who are like their constituents. That subject arises anew with every social change, with every claim for representation from groups previously neglected, from women, from ethnic minorities, and recently from individuals who have been marginalized because of their sexual preferences. Donald P. Haider-Markel explores the effect of the election of openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals on legislation introduced and enacted in U.S. state legislatures between 1992 and 2002. He concludes that the number of bills introduced and enacted that are favorable to this group is a function of the number of such legislators in each chamber, as well as of other characteristics of each state. On the other hand, an increase in the number of legislators belonging to this group also produces a backlash, in the form of an increase in legislation unfavorable to this group. On balance, however, the author concludes that an increase in descriptive representation has a positive substantive influence on the interests of individuals previously marginalized. The article adds to our understanding of the policy consequences of descriptive representation.

        The final article in this issue adds a piece to our understanding of campaign finance in the United States. Does money available to an incumbent candidate for the U.S. Senate two years before an election influence the candidate’s renomination or reelection prospects? Jay Goodliffe examines the effect of such "war chests" and concludes that in the two decades between 1980 and 2000, such accumulated funds have not affected the quality of challengers that incumbents face nor their primary or general election prospects. War chests seem to be the result of past easy campaigns and of the continual fund-raising of U.S. senators rather than calculated attempts to deter opponents. Their effect is negligible and efforts to increase competitiveness in U.S. senatorial elections should probably address other aspects of the political process.

                                                                                                                           —Gerhard Loewenberg,                                          
                        
                                                                                                              Director, Comparative Legislative Research Center

  


  Return to February 2007 Titles

  Return to LSQ home page