Volume XXXVI, Number 1
February 2011

 

Introduction

      

        Legislatures are almost always complicated organizations operating in complex governing structures. Consequently, it is not surprising that most of the studies in this issue of the Quarterly emphasize the conditional nature of many important relationships involving legislatures and legislators.

        The question of whether voters hold representatives responsible for their votes has long attracted scholarly attention because of the answer’s implications for democratic theory. A new tack on this topic is offered by Brandice Canes-Wrone, William Minozzi, and Jessica Bonney Reveley. The authors examine U.S. House votes on crime policies and environmental policies between 1988 and 2004 to see if voters punish members who take unpopular positions on issues that are closely identified with or owned by a particular party. Using both OLS and a matching procedure, they find that issue salience largely drives punishment. When crime was an important issue in 1994, 1996, and 1998, voters penalized Democrats who voted on the soft side of crime legislation because they were seen as being out of step with popular demands on an issue where their party’s position was suspect. In contrast, voters never considered environmental issues to be of paramount importance during this span of elections; consequently, Republicans who voted out of step with voter preferences on that set of issues were not punished, even though their party position was unpopular. As the authors note, this intriguing finding should be tested across a number of other issues, both those that have at some point been highly salient and others that only lurk in the background.

        An unusual aspect of the European Parliament is that its members must be responsive to two principals: their national party and their European party group. The question of when European parliament members are more responsive or less responsive to the policy positions of each of the two principals is tackled by René Lindstädt, Jonathan B. Slapin, and Ryan J. Vander Wielen. Employing a decision-theoretic model of member behavior, the authors deduce that when European Parliament elections are proximate, European Parliament members shift their policy positions toward those of their national parties. In turn, European Parliament party groups exert greater influence on European Parliament member preferences at the third-year midpoint of their term. These relationships are confirmed through a Bayesian item-response analysis of voting data on the 5th European Parliament. But the authors also find that this cyclical effect is more pronounced in party groups with more members than in party groups with fewer members.

        Legislative term limits are imposed in 15 American states. In the now 20 years since these limits were first adopted and the 14 years since they first kicked into effect, scholars have looked for, among other things, their impact on the internal distribution of power within a legislature and on legislative relations with external actors—notably the governor and interest groups. Susan M. Miller, Jill Nicholson-Crotty, and Sean Nicholson-Crotty advance our understanding of these various impacts by examining them in the context of the particular constellation of power relationships existing in each state. Analyzing individual legislator responses to the 2002 State Legislative Survey, the authors generate a large number of weighted OLS equations that reveal the conditional nature of the impact of term limits. They find, for example, that gubernatorial power is enhanced by the imposition of term limits, as others have found. But Miller, Nicholson-Crotty, and Nicholson-Crotty report that where governors were weak, the impact of term limits increasing their influence has been twice as great as suggested by other studies. Where governors were already strong, however, term limits actually do little to change the balance of power between the two institutions. Perhaps even more notably, interest group power is generally increased with term limits, but in states where interest groups were already very strong, the reform’s effect has been to slightly weaken their influence.

        What do U.S. presidents get out of making campaign visits on behalf of congressional candidates? Previous research on this topic has focused on the electoral benefits enjoyed by the candidates the president visits, and whether incumbent candidates gaining such visible presidential support earned it by previously voting in favor of the administration’s legislative priorities. Paul S. Herrnson, Irwin L. Morris, and John McTague offer a novel twist on this line of research by developing a prospective presidential “investment” model. They examine the extent to which members of the House increase their support for the president’s programs during the legislative sessions following the election in which they received a presidential visit. The OLS results they report appear to be conditional on context: Democrats who had been visited during the 1998 campaign were more supportive of President Clinton during the 1999 session, but the boost waned in most cases during the 2000 session. In contrast, Republicans who enjoyed having President Bush in their districts during the 2002 campaign increased their support in the 2004 session but not in the 2003 session. The authors suggest that this difference was driven by each president’s electoral situation, with Clinton entering into lame-duck status while Bush was heading toward reelection.

        Since it first became available, the Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP) dataset has become an important resource for legislative scholars, allowing them, among other things, to estimate positions on a left-right dimension for a large number of political parties across an impressive range of countries. In an important contribution, Will Lowe, Kenneth Benoit, Slava Mikhaylov, and Michael Laver develop a new method for analyzing such textual category counts. Their method, which employs a logit scale, is demonstrated to be superior in important ways to the saliency and relative proportional scales currently used in most studies drawing on the CMP data. Additionally, the authors devise both a means to calculate uncertainty estimates and a new measure of policy importance. All of these developments promise legislative scholars better tools with which to exploit the CMP data. In turn, these new tools should allow them to explore more questions of interest and to do so with greater confidence in their findings.

                                                                                                                                                                       — Peverill Squire

                                                                                                                                                                            Senior Editor

 


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