Volume XXIX, Number 2
May 2004

Editor’s Introduction

 

 

        The cost of U.S. political campaigns continues to escalate to a level far beyond anything existing in other countries. Does the unrivalled capacity of U.S. presidents to raise campaign funds, exemplified by George W. Bush, affect—among other things—executive-legislative relations in the United States? Does it enable presidents to influence the outcome of congressional elections? Gary C. Jacobson, Samuel Kernell, and Jeffrey Lazarus are interested in discovering the extent to which presidents use their fund-raising ability to maximize their parties’ congressional strength. Taking the case of Bill Clinton in the 2000 House of Representatives election, for which they have unusually relevant data, they discover that Clinton’s fund-raising did indeed improve the chances of those of his party’s candidates who were not incumbents. But they also find that Clinton used his fund-raising influence to help candidates who had stood by him in his fight against impeachment although this “wasted” effort on incumbents who did not need help. Admittedly the election of 2000 was unusual. Clinton was a lame-duck president with unusual debts to repay. But all presidents may have motives of rewarding friends and punishing opponents even though this is not an optimal use of their influence if their only goal is to win or improve their party’s majority in Congress. Fund-raising may have become a more important presidential influence on congressional ­elections than presidential coattails were when congressional elections were less distinct political events.

        There has been a resurgence of interest in bicameralism both in comparative legislative research and in research on legislatures within the United States. Frances E. Lee’s analysis of the difference between the preferences of the U.S. House and Senate in the allocation of federal funds, and of how these differences are reconciled, provides a new insight into the consequences of bicameralism. She presents data on the distributional formulas adopted by the House and Senate between 1956 and 1998 for six surface transportation authorizations. Lee shows how the differences between the approaches of the two houses reflect the differences between a house whose members represent whole states and a house whose members represent districts within states. That much is not surprising. What is surprising is that in the resulting controversies between the two houses, which are nominally equal to each other in the legislative process, the Senate view tended to prevail. The explanation appears to be that the distribution of funds among states is more controversial than the distribution among districts within states and that therefore the Senate has more at stake in reconciling intercameral differences than the House does. Others forms of allocating funds, such as for special projects and for special purpose categories, create a somewhat different dynamic.

        The effort of women to gain entry into national parliaments, manifest worldwide over the last generation, has led to research designed to answer two fundamental questions: whether women legislators have different interests and beliefs than their male colleagues, and what determines the ability of women to win legislative seats in the first place. Leslie A. Schwindt-Bayer and Renato Corbetta contribute a new answer to the first question. They dispute the conclusions of previous research that women members of the U.S. House of Representatives exhibit a more liberal voting record than men. In reassessing roll-call voting behavior of men and women in the 1990s, they use a “turnover model” in which the congressional constituency is the unit of analysis rather than the individual member. Their assumption is that the ideological composition of a constituency does not change over limited time periods. This enables them to test for the effect of gender on voting behavior excluding all other variables where there is turnover within a district between male and female representatives. They find that neither a change to a female representative nor a change to a male representative changes the voting record of the district’s representative in ideological terms. The authors conclude that gender differences found in previous research resulted from a failure to control for other influences. If women representatives have more liberal voting records than men, that seems to result from women being more likely to win in liberal constituencies.

        The article by Lisa Baldez addresses the second question related to gender, what factors influence the ability to women to enter the legislature. Baldez notes that gender quota laws have been widely adopted in the past decade and have significantly increased women’s representation in legislatures. She is interested in why legislatures that are dominated by men would enact such laws. Investigating the case of Mexico, a country noted for a culture of machismo, Baldez finds that the adoption of a strict quota law in that country in 2002 resulted from the electoral uncertainty that existed as the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) lost its long-term dominance, from the intervention of its prestigious Supreme Court, and from a cross-party consensus among female legislators. Her research sheds light on the relatively new tendency of democratic countries to increase the representation of women through affirmative action procedures.

        The outpouring of significant new research on Latin American legislatures, which will be the subject of a review article by Brian Crisp and Felipe Botero in the next issue of this Quarterly, is exemplified in this issue by an analysis of the effect of federalism on party cohesion in the national legislature of Brazil. Scott W. Desposato investigates whether the assumed divisive effect of federalism exists in that country. He describes the distinct interests of the governors of the 26 states, of state political parties, and of state electorates, as opposed to the interests of the national parties in the Congress and of the nation’s president. Desposato goes on to analyze voting behavior in both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies during two legislative periods between 1991 and 1998. Comparing average national party cohesion with average state party cohesion using a “permutation analysis” that offsets the upward bias of subgroup cohesion, Desposato finds that federalism does reduce national party cohesion in Brazil, more so in the Senate than in the Chamber and variously across parties. But although he shows that both state governors and state political parties affect voting behavior in Congress, Desposato concludes that their effect is quite small and national political actors explain most of congressional voting behavior. However, the agenda of Congress and the strategy of the president may well mask important federal effects. Desposato’s analysis lends itself to replication in other federal systems. Such comparative research could test the influence of different political contexts on the mechanisms that tie state-level politics to national legislatures in federal systems.

        The final article in this issue returns to the subject of legislative behavior in the allocation of resources, using the “member initiative spending” program in Illinois as a case study. Michael C. Herron and Brett A. Theodos examine how funds available to the legislature for infrastructure development grants were distributed across districts in 1999–2000. Under the program, allocation decisions were effectively in the hands of the leaders of the two political parties in the Illinois House and Senate. The authors demonstrate that these four caucus leaders allocated resources not according to any measurable needs of the districts nor on the basis of district party loyalty but for tactical partisan purposes and to enhance the standing of legislative party leaders. Marginal districts received disproportionate shares of the fund, as did the districts of the legislature’s party leaders. This research shows how electoral incentives—what the authors call “vote buying”—and the desire of party leaders for “self enhancement” can distort a government redistribution program when there are no institutional constraints to stand in the way.

                                                                             —Gerhard Loewenberg


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