Volume XXX, Number 2
May 2005

Editor’s Introduction

            The recent controversy in the United States Senate over the use of the filibuster to block the confirmation of the President’s judicial nominees is only the latest example of the role of obstruction in parliamentary bodies. While the efforts of minorities to inhibit majorities have a venerable history in most legislatures, opportunities for it are especially prominent in the rules of the U.S. Senate. But relatively little research has been done on its role in the Senate of the 19th century. Such work as exists deals with obstruction in the aggregate. Gregory J. Wawro fills the gap with an analysis of Southern obstruction on issues related to slavery in the pre-civil war Senate, using individual-level data. With evidence on the use of dilatory motions by Senators in the antebellum era, Wawro is able to identify the factors that led Senators to obstruct. He demonstrates that both sectional and partisan factors were at work and that obstruction became more frequent as the number of Senators from slave states became an ever smaller minority. His article supplements party-based theories of the use of obstruction by minorities, which have been developed by Douglas Dion (Turning the Legislative Thumbscrew) and Sarah Binder (Minority Rights, Majority Rule).

            Two further articles in this issue deal with minority rights in U.S. legislatures. The first, by Tonja Jacobi, analyses the effect of “senatorial courtesy” on the President’s appointment power, the minority in this case being a single senator. Since the Senate’s beginning, it has had an informal norm that Senators will be “courteous” to each other by refusing to confirm presidential nominees for state or district positions if the Senator representing the appointees’ state objects to the appointment. The norm reflects the fact that senators have a stronger interest in nominations of their own constituents than in other nominations, and relies on their sense of reciprocity. Jacobi models senatorial courtesy as a repeated game and takes account of the relative strengths of the interests of the “home state senator” and other senators whose support is required. The game identifies the conditions under which senatorial courtesy is sustained in the chamber. Jacobi goes on to show that the existence of senatorial courtesy does not necessarily limit the appointment power of the president, because it enables him to choose nominees from states closer to his preferences than the median member of the Senate whose position would be controlling were it not for senatorial courtesy. The article contributes to our understanding of how a distinctive minority right affects the appointment process in the United States.

            The continuing controversy about whether party has an independent effect on voting outcomes in the U.S. Congress is the subject of the article by Jason M. Roberts. He tests a conclusion reached by Keith Krehbiel and Adam Meirowitz in an article in this Quarterly (2002). They sought to show that House rules giving a minority the right to move to recommit a measure with instructions at the last stage of the legislative process in effect limits majority rule. Roberts asserts that Krehbiel and Meirowitz do not adequately portray the recommittal procedure in the House and that their empirical predictions are not borne out by the facts. With data on all recommittal motions between 1909 and 2003, Roberts shows that outcomes exhibit partisan divisions in which the majority tends to prevail. He concludes that the conditional party theory of voting in Congress explains the results of recommittal motions better than does a theory based on minority rights under the rules.

            The final article on Congress in this issue calls into question the conventional wisdom that members of Congress have no incentive to improve voters’ perceptions of Congress as a whole. That was the basis of Richard F. Fenno’s explanation for why Americans love their member of Congress so much more than their Congress. Monika L. McDermott and David R. Jones investigate whether voters’ evaluations of the performance of Congress as a whole does not after all affect their vote for a particular member of Congress. The authors use exit polls on voting in the 1996 and 1998 senatorial elections. They find strong evidence that voters who approved the performance of Congress were significantly more likely to vote for the candidate of the majority party. Furthermore, voters favored members of Congress who exhibited strong support for the majority party. Previous research on the relationship between support for members and support for the institution relied on aggregate data. The distinctive contribution of this article is that it analyzes individual congressional races.

            The three remaining articles in this issue of the Quarterly offer comparisons across legislative systems. The first of these explores the relationship between members of legislatures and their constituents, a subject long regarded as interesting only to students of U.S. legislatures because outside the United States the relationship seemed overwhelmingly governed by the party preferences of voters. It was hard to tease out the existence of a “personal vote” for legislators especially in proportional representation systems. That changed with the widespread adoption of mixed-member electoral systems where voters may vote separately for a party list and for an individual candidate. In these systems voters have the opportunity to split their vote for strategic reasons, that is, to affect the outcome of the contest for the individual seat by supporting one of the front-runners rather than the candidate of the party the voter prefers on the party list. Robert G. Moser and Ethan Scheiner analyze such ticket splitting in five countries and attempt to disentangle votes cast for such strategic reasons from votes that are cast out of sincere support for a particular person. They focus on the gap between votes cast for individual candidates and votes cast for their party and make a number of assumptions about the different motives of ticket splitters under different circumstances. They find strong evidence of the existence of a personal vote in Japan, Lithuania, New Zealand, and Russia, but not in the party-dominated German electorate.

            State legislatures in the United States are often the training ground for members of Congress, and that career linkage has been tightened in recent years as national party organizations have sought to recruit state legislators to be candidates for Congress. Cherie D. Maestas, L. Sandy Maisel, and Walter J. Stone explore this recruitment pattern on the basis of a survey of all state legislators whose districts overlapped with a random sample of 200 congressional districts in the 1998 election. The survey asked legislators whether they had been contacted about running for a congressional seat by a national party organization and also asked a variety of questions about their backgrounds, their districts, and their ambitions. The authors find that state legislators are more likely to be recruited for Congress if they belong to professionalized legislatures, less likely to be recruited in closely balanced legislatures, and more likely to be recruited in districts where the prospects of winning the impending congressional election are good. Individual candidate characteristics are important also. National party leaders look for younger candidates, members of upper-chambers, leaders, and members with high incomes. To the extent that this recruitment affects the composition of the U.S. Congress, it provides new insight into how lower-level experience in a federal system shape political careers and shows that in favoring recruitment from professionalized state legislatures it reinforces the professionalization of Congress.

            The research note that concludes this issue contributes data on the surprisingly widespread practice of reserving seats in legislatures for various ethnic, racial, or religious groups. Once a relatively rare practice, Andrew Reynolds shows the origins of the practice largely in colonially administered legislatures that reserved seats for indigenous groups. He explains that this arrangement was rediscovered in many ethnically divided societies when independent legislatures proliferated in the last quarter of the 20th century. Reynolds lists 32 countries that reserve seats for various communal groups and a handful of others that have special mechanisms favoring defined ethnic territories. He distinguishes the different mechanisms used to ensure communal representation. Recognizing the widespread existence of reserved seats raises a range of interesting research questions about the reasons for and consequences of this practice for representative assemblies.

                                                                                                                                                                —Gerhard Loewenberg


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