Volume XXVI, Number 2
February 2001

Editor’s Introduction

      In the opening article in this issue, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal bring the influential analysis of voting in the U.S. Congress that they completed 12 years ago up-to-date. The authors add six Congresses to the ninety-nine which they originally covered. They find that voting in both houses increasingly exhibits a single left-right ideological dimension. A single dimension can capture voting in the contemporary Congress because race-related issues that formerly introduced a second dimension into voting have become issues of income redistribution. By carrying their analysis through the 105th Congress that sat from 1996 to 1998, Poole and Rosenthal conclude that the United States has a “a polarized, unidimensional Congress” although in cross-national perspective it seems to lack cohesive parties. The authors explain that parties in the U.S. Congress can be seen as “spatially adjacent ideological coalitions” which do not require organized party discipline to hold together. As they had done in their original analysis, they set their finding into its historical context. They see no new patterns developing in the 1990s. Poole and Rosenthal go on to compare voting in Congress with voting in the UN General Assembly, the European Parliament, and four other European parliaments. They conclude that voting even in multiparty parliaments can be interpreted by a one- or two-dimensional spatial model. The trend toward a clear, though not severe polarization, evident in congressional voting during the last generation, appears to stand in the way of the bipartisanship that leaders of both parties advocated after the close outcome of the election of 2000.

        We know that candidates with previous political experience, for example, in a state legislature, have strong advantages as candidates in U.S. Congressional elections, but Charles S. Bullock, Ronald Gaddie, and Anders Ferrington test the limits of that advantage. They investigate all open elections to the U.S. House of Representatives in which a second-ballot run-off took place in the primary election because of the requirement, common in southern states, that a candidate needs a majority on the first ballot to win a party’s nomination. In the 87 such House of Representative elections between 1982 and 1994, the authors find that primary run-offs change the value of experience, presumably because voters discount previous experience once a run-off primary has taken place. Inexperienced candidates who come in first on the initial ballot are likely to win nomination even against more experienced opponents.

        Do interest groups dominate U.S. trade policy? Michael Bailey demonstrates that unorganized, diffuse interests also exert influence. He examines the influence of skilled labor—college-educated workers in service, government, education and manufacturing—by an analysis of House and Senate votes on trade legislation between 1983 and 1994. With a random effects statistical model that takes a wide range of variables into account, Bailey shows that representatives from districts with skilled work forces were consistently, significantly, and substantially more liberal on trade policy than members from districts without such workforces. Members presumably respond to such unorganized constituency influences in anticipation of their reactions.

        Daniel Lapinski investigates the effects that members of ­Congress can have on their constituents’ knowledge of their positions. He focuses on two important congressional votes in the U.S. in the early 1990s— the resolution to authorize the use of force in the Persian Gulf and the 1993 budget reconciliation act that raised taxes. Using data from the U.S. National Election Studies to measure constituents’ knowledge, and the content of members’ newsletters as a measure of how members publicized their votes, Lapinski shows that members can significantly affect how their constituents view them. However, the strength of the effect varies with the partisan cues on the issues and the congruence between district boundaries and TV media markets.

        The propensity of members to speak on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives using the unconstrained procedure permitting one-minute speeches at the beginning of each day’s session has been the subject of previous research. Jonathan S. Morris supplements this research by looking at the nearly 5,000 such speeches given in the 104th Congress in which the Republican Party held a majority for the first time in 40 years. He has new findings on the use of this procedure to give partisan speeches. The most ideologically intense members, and members of the Democratic party, used “one minutes” for partisan purposes most frequently, and members with the longest tenure  used them least. Contrary to expectations, members facing reelection used them less than average.

        In articles published two years ago in this Quarterly’s Comparative Legislative Research Series, John Hibbing (1999) and Gary Moncrief (1999) discussed the key issues and research questions guiding the study of legislative careers. E. Lee Bernick presents new research on this subject by investigating the extent to which career anchor theory, developed originally by industrial psychologists and career development specialists, provides insight and guidance in the study of legislative careers. Using data derived from a 1995 survey of North Carolina legislators, Bernick identifies three possible anchors for those developing a legislative career: the desire for power and influence; the desire to serve a cause or a community; and the desire to become competent in a specialty. He finds these anchors distinctive to the legislative career and proceeds to show that they shape legislators’ career orientations. Bernick demonstrates that  these orientations can explain their legislative behavior. His initial study encourages the use of this concept for further research on the sources and consequences of legislative careers.

        The final article in this issue offers a broad, comparative study of the influence of procedures for setting the agenda upon the decisions of parliaments. Herbert Döring describes the varying agenda setting prerogatives of governments in 17 European parliaments, the relative autonomy of committees in their legislative processes, and the rules governing the parliamentary stages in the budget process. He summarizes the evidence that restrictive rules in the budgeting procedure reduce budget deficits. Döring goes on to show that government control over the lawmaking agenda results in the passage of fewer, though more controversial bills, presumably because the time saved by the reduction in the number of bills is used to enact relatively more time-consuming, controversial ones. Finally, Döring asks whether detailed coalition agreements between parties entering the cabinet might provide a substitute for the constraints available to some governments by their control over the parliamentary agenda. He finds initial evidence to support that hypothesis. Döring’s analysis shows that a surprising variety exists in the procedures for setting the agenda and for the adoption of budgets among the major parliamentary systems of Western Europe. His work suggests that this variety provides interesting tests of the relationship between procedures and outcomes.

—Gerhard Loewenberg

  Return to February 2001 Titles

  Return to LSQ home page