Volume XXXI, Number 2
May 2006

 

Introduction

        Five out of six articles in this issue of the Quarterly report comparative research, the first two based on observations across nations, the next three on data across state legislatures in the United States . The first article investigates how political parties shape the rules by which legislatures choose their leaders. The authors note that parties do not stop influencing electoral democracy after legislators are elected but that their influence continues in the elections conducted within legislatures. Royce Carroll, Gary W. Cox, and Mónica Pachón call that post-election influence the “second chapter.” Their focus is on the rules that govern the selection by legislative assemblies of “directing boards,” committee chairs, and cabinet ministers—positions they call “mega-seats.” They hypothesize that parties choose the rules that will favor them and that over time the favored parties will maintain these advantageous rules. The authors develop a model of how the parties’ shares of seats in the legislature affect their share of mega-seats. They analyze data from 57 countries, in 15 cases with observations at two points in time. Their aim is to explain departures from proportionality in the assignment of these seats, or the “majoritarian bonus.” They find that in newer and in more fragmented democracies, smaller parties actually receive bonuses in the allocation of mega-seats, as uncertainty exists about the effect of rules on party shares. But in older democracies and where party strength is concentrated, the analysis reveals an increasing majoritarian bonus. The longer parties have to compete with each other, the more experience they have with how rules affect results and the more they are able to adapt the rules to their own advantage. The general conclusion is that as parties adapt to electoral rules and have the chance to change them, the party system and the rules governing both legislative and intralegislative elections reach an equilibrium.

        The second article in this issue offers a set of qualifications to our understanding of how electoral systems affect the proportion of women in legislatures. It has often been shown that proportional representation favors the representation of women, but Salmond suggests that the effect has been over generalized and overestimated. He brings to bear on this subject a much larger set of data than has ever been analyzed previously, a new way of treating culture as a variable, a continuous measure of electoral systems based on logged district magnitude, and a statistical model that does not assume a linear relationship. Salmond analyzes panel data covering 281 elections in 21 countries held from 1950 to 2001. He notes that female representation has not increased in a linear fashion over time but first grows sporadically, then rises slowly, eventually increases dramatically, and then levels off. His statistical model therefore posits a relationship represented by an S-shaped curve. Salmond’s conclusion is that while proportional representation does increase the representation of women in legislatures, the rate of increase varies over time and previous research has generally overstated it two- or three-fold. He also qualifies the effect of electoral engineering, showing that the introduction of proportional representation in particular instances has a more modest effect than previous research had suggested.

        The next three articles turn from cross-national to cross-state research, exemplifying the opportunities for comparative legislative research given by the federal system of the United States . Nancy Martorano uses state legislative data in an interesting way to test rival theories about the function of legislative committees, theories arising from research on the U.S. Congress. She provides a new test to assess the alternative explanations of the role of committees: that they provide arenas for bargaining among interested legislators, that they provide information for legislative decisions, and that they are the agents of political parties. In congressional research these three theories have been tested with data on committee composition and the policy preferences of their members. Martorano develops hypotheses about the structural and procedural characteristics of committees implied by each of these theories. With an 11-item additive index of committee system autonomy, she analyzes data from the lower chambers of 24 U.S. state legislatures representative of all 50 states. She finds that committee autonomy is directly related to the complexity of policy issues and inversely related to the rights of members to choose the committees on which they wish to serve. The evidence she presents therefore supports the informational theory of legislative organization and seems to refute the bargaining theory. Her article is an interesting example of using state legislative research to test the results of research on the U.S. Congress.

        Shannon Jenkins brings new data to bear on the continuing uncertainty about the extent to which party influences legislative voting behavior in the United States . Unlike most research on this subject, which focuses on the U.S. Congress, her article analyzes roll-call voting in five state legislatures in the 1990s and uses direct survey measures of the personal beliefs of members. She controls for constituency opinion with demographic data. Shannon finds that party influences voting in all the legislatures in her study but that the degree of partisan influence varies from state to state. Personal beliefs matter as well, and also vary across the states. She observes that the influence of party and beliefs varies by time, place, and legislative chamber, and that the extent of partisan influence appears to depend on the extent to which parties are active in elections.

        D.E. Apollonio and Raymond J. La Raja add to our understanding of the impact of term limits on the distribution of power within legislatures. Previous research has shown that term limits have had the unanticipated consequence of weakening the legislature. The authors test the general proposition that term-limited legislatures have flattened internal hierarchies because the effect of seniority is reduced within them. Consequently, they expect that interest groups’ campaign contributions to members are more evenly distributed. They compare the pattern of campaign contributions to members in four state legislatures having term limits with the pattern among members in four states that do not have these limits, over the period during which term limits were adopted. They produce evidence that states with term limits have lower levels of campaign contributions, that contributions are more evenly divided between leaders and rank-and-file members, but that the effect of term limits is less pronounced for members of state senates than for legislators in lower chambers. These findings suggest that term limits create a leveling effect among members of lower chambers and reduce the value of experience in their deliberations, but that they do not have that effect on members of upper chambers, to which career-oriented legislators in term-limited states tend to move. Thus an unintended effect of term limits may be to increase the relative influence of upper chambers in the legislative process of U.S. states.

        The final article in this issue reveals a previously unexplored ­aspect of the relationship between Congress and the judiciary. Joseph L. Smith investigates the use Congress makes of its power to specify by statute how federal courts may review the decisions of administrative and regulatory agencies. He hypothesizes that Congress uses that power to achieve specific policy goals, using legislative regulation of citizen suits as his research focus. His data consist of the provisions for citizen suits contained in 284 environmental regulation bills reported out of House and Senate committee between 1970 and 1994. His evidence shows that the extent to which federal law grants citizens the right to sue in court reflects the ideology of the legislative committee reporting the bill. Committees whose members have liberal policy preferences, whose ideology is close to the ideology of the courts, and whose ideology is distant from their parent chamber, are likely to facilitate citizen suits. Using citizen suits in this way to achieve legislative policy objectives has the effect of expanding judicial policymaking, in this case not against the will of Congress but as an instrument of that will.

                                                                                                                                                  —Gerhard Loewenberg,                                          
                     
                                                                                                                                  Director, Comparative Legislative Research Center

 

 

Legislative Research Reports

With this issue, the Quarterly discontinues the section entitled “Legislative Research Reports” which has appeared in every issue since the journal’s founding. The “Reports” section provided abstracts of papers and articles on legislative research appearing in other journals or presented at professional conferences, enabling our readers to have a timely overview of the latest research in the entire field. It has been a notable service to the legislative research community in the decades before electronic data archives when library searches of papers and articles were difficult and papers were often impossible to find.

Established in 1973 by Professor Michael Mezey of DePaul University as part of an inter-university research consortium, it was taken over by the Quarterly in its first issue in 1976 and edited by Professor Mezey through 1995. In the last ten years it was ably continued by Professor Sunil Ahuja of Youngstown State University. This Quarterly owes a great debt of gratitude to Professor Ahuja for maintaining this valuable research tool for the past decade. Its discontinuance now reflects the changing technology of library searches as well as the need to use all of our pages to keep the backlog of accepted manuscripts manageable.


  Return to May 2006 Titles

  Return to LSQ home page