Volume XXVIII, Number 2
May 2003

Editor’s Introduction

          As the dim outlines of the post cold-war world emerge out of the events surrounding the Second Gulf War, it is important to understand how America’s role in the cold war came about half a century ago. Michael A. Bailey provides evidence that public opinion and Congress were important influences on the foreign policy decisions made by the U.S. government in the 1950s. What he calls “difficult” political decisions central to the cold war strategy of the government, those dealing with foreign aid and free trade, were not naturally popular. Nevertheless, he shows that they had the support of the public. For evidence Bailey draws on roll-call votes in the U.S. Senate on security and trade legislation and on region-level opinion data found in the famous 1954 Communism, Conformity, and Civil Liberties study, supplemented by later National Election Studies. His statistical model estimates the preferences of Senators from their votes on these issues between 1953 and 1958. He shows that while party and economic variables were naturally important influences on senatorial votes on foreign aid, public opinion was clearly influential and in some cases decisive. Even on trade policy, often regarded as the product of interest group politics, public opinion on national security was important in determining senatorial votes. And this opinion was not just an expression of constituency economic interests. Bailey’s conclusions run contrary to the conventional wisdom that foreign policy is made by special interests, bureaucrats, and members of Congress uninfluenced by their constituents. The implication is that important foreign policy directions were shaped by congressional response to the anti-communist orientation of the U.S. public half a century ago. This had profound consequences for the geopolitical environment in which this country operated until recently. The article raises the question of whether Congress and public opinion will have similar influences on shaping new directions in U.S. foreign policy today.

        Is the decentralization of formerly autocratic regimes an important element in their democratization? To what extent are the roots of the newly democratic party systems in Latin America to be found in local politics? Erika Moreno addresses these important questions in a broad-ranging comparative analysis of the local bases of multiparty systems in 18 Latin American countries. She examines the impact of gubernatorial elections between 1953 and 1999 on the number of ­parties to be found in the lower house of the national legislature, in both federal and unitary states. Her analysis employs a pooled time-serial design. She finds that the timing of gubernatorial elections in relation to national elections and the electoral system used in these elections both influence the number of parties represented in the national legislature. Furthermore, she shows that the effect of gubernatorial elections on multipartism at the national level increases over time. Moreno’s research sheds new light on the influence of political decentralization on national political systems, and adds to our understanding of processes of democratization.

        It is one of the axioms of legislative research that reelection is a major goal of legislators and that their actions in the legislature are designed to advance that goal. Indeed that is the basis of the representative relationship. Testing that relationship is one of the perennial subjects of legislative research. Brian F. Schaffner, Wendy J. Schiller, and Patrick J. Sellers examine this subject by focusing on the actions of U.S. Senators between 1981 and 1997 and by the response of their voters. They ask whether the bills that U.S. Senators introduce, the positions they take, and the coverage they receive in the media affect the approval they receive from their constituents. Using data from official U.S. Job Approval Ratings for 110 Senators from 47 states as measures of constituency support, the authors relate that support to measures of bill sponsorship, ideological positions, and media coverage. Their analysis employs a random effects regression model that enables them to distinguish between the effects of Senators’ legislative activity, ideological positions, and media coverage and the effect of contextual factors that individual Senator cannot control. They find that contextual factors—the performance of the economy, the policies of the president, the position of the state’s other senator, and the size and ideological preferences of their constituencies—are the strongest influences on Senators’ approval ratings. Senators can only offset these givens by their legislative activities to a limited extent.

        In view of their uncertainty about how their actions in the legislature will strengthen their positions, legislators are likely to use all the available procedures for doing so. A rules change adopted in 1967 in the U.S. House of Representatives enabled members to cosponsor bills. The average member now cosponsors over 200 bills in each session. Gregory Kroger asks why members devote time and energy to this little-studied activity. On the basis of interviews with House members and staff and an ­analysis of cosponsorship between 1979 and 1998, he finds that vulnerable new members cosponsor more often than senior members, that urban members who are less likely to have media coverage cosponsor more often than members from rural constituencies, and that minority party members cosponsor more often than those in the majority. He also discovers that members’ cosponsoring strategy does not change over their careers, that they adopt a style early and maintain it. Cosponsorship is therefore a form of position taking designed to affect the agenda of the House and to impress constituents. Its use by individual members shows a path-dependent effect.

        How does the U.S. Congress influence the decisions of the Supreme Court? Do the justices decide cases according to their own ideological positions, making the confirmation of the appointment of the members of the Court the decisive point of congressional influence, or do they anticipate congressional reactions throughout their careers? Previous research has produced contradictory results. Mario Bergara, Barak Richman, and Pablo T. Stiller recognize that the same data can lead to different conclusions depending on whether they are interpreted with an attitudinal or a strategic model of decision making. The authors’ regime switching econometric model takes account of congressional opinion as well as of the ideology of the justices and draws on a model of congressional decision making developed by Keith Krehbiel in Pivotal Politics. They conclude that while Supreme Court decisions for the period 1947 to 1992 do reflect the justices’ ideological positions, at various times they also reflect the Court’s anticipation of congressional reaction.

                      —Gerhard Loewenberg


        We are pleased to announce the appointment of C. Lawrence Evans of the College of William and Mary as the Legislative Studies Quarterly’s new editor for manuscripts dealing with the U.S. Congress. Although articles edited by Steven S. Smith 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. For four years Steve Smith has attracted, evaluated, and edited some of the best new work on Congress for the Quarterly. By devoting his mastery of congressional research and his broad acquaintance with scholars and with practitioners to the Quarterly, he has solidified this journal’s standing in the area of congressional research. We appreciate the time and effort that he has given to the Quarterly, not only as a co-editor but also throughout his career. We look forward to having him continue as a member of our Editorial Board.
        Beginning on August 1st manuscripts dealing with the U.S. Congress should be submitted to Professor C. Lawrence Evans, Department of Government, College of William and Mary, P.O. Box 8795, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795. Phone: (757) 221-3030; Fax: (757) 221-1868; email: clevan@wm.edu. Manuscripts submitted prior to that date will continue to be handled by Professor Smith.

 

 


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