Volume XXVI, Number 2
May 2001

Editor’s Introduction

        Despite its title, the first article in this issue is comparative. Gary W. Cox inquires whether the influence of the majority party over the setting of the agenda in the U.S. House of Representatives is similar to the agenda-setting power of the governing majority in the U.K. House of Commons. He finds that the similarity is surprisingly great. Conceptualizing agenda setting in the U.S. House as the power of its committees to bring legislation to the floor, Cox tests two alternative spatial models of agenda control, one as if the whole committee decides the agenda, and one as if the majority party decides it. He tests the differing predictions from each model, using data on committee members’ decisions to support or to oppose their committee’s recommendations in eight Democratically controlled Congresses between 1955 and 1985. The evidence shows that the majority party is almost never outvoted in agenda setting. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, the famous conservative coalition of southern Democrats and Republicans appears never to have outvoted the Democratic majority in agenda setting. Cox goes on to show that the majority party’s agenda power has ultimate policy consequences, even in a legislature known for the independence of its members. The article corroborates with individual-level data the aggregate findings that Cox will publish with Mathew McCubbins.

        The next five articles in this issue deal with the U.S. Congress. Midterm congressional elections in the United States are sometimes regarded as a return to "normal politics" after the "coattails" effect of the previous presidential election. They can also be interpreted as a referendum on the performance of the president in office. Alan I. Abramowitz explains the failure of the Republican Party to make the gains in the 1998 congressional elections that the "normal politics" theory would predict. Using data from the 1998 election study, he shows that a backlash against the Republican impeachment effort hurt Republican candidates, especially in the Senate elections. He regards this election, therefore, as a referendum. Republican leaders may have been reflecting the views of their strongest supporters when they led the impeachment effort, but they did so at the cost of votes in the marginal districts on which potential gains depended. Abramowitz speculates that if Republican congressional leaders continue to take their cues on major issues from their core supporters, they may find it difficult to maintain the narrow control of Congress that they won in the election of the year 2000.

        The U.S. Senate is no longer a club dominated by an inner group of senior members, but it has become a more democratic body in which junior members also enjoy valued committee assignments. Laura W. Arnold investigates the causes of this change by analyzing the committee assignments of all Senators serving between 1949 and 1990, taking account of the number of assignments as well as their importance. She shows that it was not the changing composition of the chamber, nor changes in the political environment, but structural changes enacted in the Committee Reorganization of 1977 that broadened access to the most prestigious committees.

        John B. Gilmour reexamines a famous vote in 1956 in which the U.S. House of Representatives adopted an antidiscrimination amendment to a bill providing federal aid to education whose provisions are regarded as having led to the defeat of the bill itself. It is the most frequently cited case of a "voting cycle," since 97 Republican opponents of the bill voted for the amendment calculating that it would defeat the bill. But Gilmour, taking later votes on aid to education into account, provides evidence that even the unamended bill would not have passed. By his careful reanalysis of what has been regarded as a textbook example of cyclical voting, Gilmour shows that it was not strategic voting by those opposed to the bill that killed it, but insufficient support in the first place. This case study appears to refute one of the principal examples of an important concept in legislative research, the existence of voting cycles and of majority instability.

        Measuring the ideology of legislators has often been controversial. Kim Quaile Hill investigates the validity and reliability of three indicators that have been widely used, measures based on survey research, on the content analysis of news stories during election campaigns, and on the attitudes of co-elites. Hill finds that each of these measures is reliable and valid and, furthermore, that they all tap a common underlying ideological dimension. Finally, the measures effectively predict legislators’ votes. The findings will be valuable for the construction of measures of ideology in future research.

        Changes in the composition of constituencies as a result of redistricting in the 1970s and 1980s affected the voting behavior of members of Congress. This was demonstrated in work by Amihai Glazer and Marc Robbins published over 15 years ago. Response to redistricting is one of the rare ways of analyzing the influence of constituencies on their members dynamically, and so continuing attention to the effect of changes in constituency boundaries is warranted. Christine LeVeaux-Sharpe brings the earlier finding up-to-date by comparing the roll-call vote conservatism of members of the U.S. House of Representatives before and after the changes in constituency boundaries caused by the 1990 census. She demonstrates once again that members are responsive to changes in their constituencies. She finds that junior members are more responsive than their senior colleagues, and asserts that the relatively great turnover of members in the elections of 1992 and 1994 was not due to their failure to respond to changes in their districts.

        The last two articles depart from the U.S. Congress; the first is one of the relatively rare investigations of a legislature in an authoritarian political system, and the final article is one of the surprisingly rare comparative studies of U.S. state legislatures.

        That non-democratic regimes usually have parliaments is well known, but the role they play has not been carefully detailed. Scott W. Desposato undertakes such an investigation by closely exploring the behavior of members of the Brazilian Congress between 1964 and 1985 while the military held executive office. He develops a model of how legislators might balance the demands of their constituents, on which their election depended, and of the military rulers, who controlled patronage and could remove inconvenient members from office. Using roll-call votes on nine bills on which the military president and a significant civilian constituency disagreed strongly, Desposato tests a series of rival explanations of the determinants of members’ votes. In his careful, microscopic analysis, he shows that military pressure limited deputies’ propensity to oppose the executive, and that to the extent that members responded to other pressures, it was not the pressure of their voters but of local, clientelistic elites. Desposato’s general conclusion is that even in authoritarian regimes, members of legislatures pursue strategies to maximize their political careers including opposition to military executives. The electoral connection may vary, but as long as there are legislatures it is never wholly absent.

        An advantage of comparative state legislative research is the ability to test theories that permit variations in context and in members’ goals. It is somewhat surprising, then, that research focusing on state legislative leadership is sparse aside from Jewell and Wicker’s book-length study (1994). Richard A. Clucas partially fills this void as he tries to account for the variations in formal powers of house speakers. Setting the research within a principal-agent theory framework, the leading perspective among congressional scholars, Clucas examines the impact of the competitiveness of the state’s electoral system, the level of professionalism of the legislature, and the type of career opportunities offered legislators. Using data on house speakers from the 1995–96 legislative session, he demonstrates that the speaker is more likely to have strong formal powers when the electoral environment is competitive and where professional legislatures exist. This cross-sectional study should encourage legislative scholars to tackle the more difficult task of conducting diachronic analysis that would test for these effects using time-series data.

                                                                                                                          —Gerhard Loewenberg


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