Volume XXXIV, Number 2
May 2009

 

Introduction

 

        The European Parliament is an unusual example of a developing legislature because of the enormous scope of the population it represents, the transnational issues it addresses, and the continual expansion of its powers. It has attracted increasing scholarly attention precisely because it is so unusual. The article by Simon Hix and Abdul Noury which leads this issue shows that in the face of its unusual and still developing characteristics, the European Parliament exhibits the familiar behavior of a modern legislature, with high levels of party cohesion and well-known left-right cleavages. Hix and Noury were particularly interested in the effect that the expansion of the EU from 15 to 25 members might have had on the voting behavior of its members. After all, this was not only a substantial numerical expansion, but also an expansion that made the European community far more heterogeneous culturally and economically than it had been. Hix and Noury examine all roll-call votes in the first two years of the Parliament elected in 2004 and find a continuation of the stable levels of party cohesion and very little increase in nation-based voting—a pattern that had existed from the start of a directly elected EP. The authors also find stability in the left-right structure of voting. In short, the transnational parties that organize the European Parliament remained highly cohesive and the main division in voting was the familiar left-right cleavage. However, on one important vote, in 2006, to open the service industry to cross-national competition, there was discernible member state voting. The new members tended to favor the move to liberalization, while the older member states felt this move might threaten wage levels and socioeconomic protections in their countries. As a still further enlarged EU conducts elections to its Parliament next month, it will be interesting to see whether the stability of this developing institution will continue unimpaired.

        One of the best ways of examining theories of legislative behavior is to test them with data on the large number of comparable legislatures that exist in the U.S. federal system. This is what Ronald D. Hedlund, Kevin Coombs, Nancy Martorano, and Keith E. Hamm have undertaken in a study of "partisan stacking" on legislative committees. Theirs is a test of the Cox and McCubbins party cartel theory of legislative committees. "Partisan stacking" is the attempt by majority party leaders to control committees by overrepresenting the majority party on them. The authors examine the party composition of committees in all of the 49 partisan state legislatures in the United States between 2003 and 2006. They find that the majority party is most frequently over-represented in committees in those legislatures where its overall margin is smallest—where presumably its control is most threatened. Their evidence is consistent with Cox and McCubbins’s findings on party control of committees in the U.S. Congress.

        Three articles in this issue provide new insights into three different ways in which special interests can influence legislators: by virtue of members’ ethnic and racial backgrounds, because of members’ personal ambitions, and because of their contacts. Do members of Congress who belong to a racial or ethnic minority represent its interests in the way they vote, serve their constituents, and participate in the legislative process? Most research on this subject has focused on roll-call votes. Michael D. Minta shifts that focus to how much time members spend intervening in the policymaking of government agencies, through their participation in oversight hearings. He shows that although overall participation by members in oversight hearings is quite low, black and Latino legislators have a conspicuously higher than average participation rate, measured by the number of transcript lines in the record. Controlling for party, the difference remains strong for racial and ethnic hearings but not for hearings on social welfare policies. With a careful analysis of the forms of participation in oversight hearings, Minta concludes that descriptive representation does make a difference—that legislators belonging to racial and ethnic minorities allocate their limited time and energies to issues concerning the interests of the marginalized groups that they represent. However, their energies are distinctively focused on racial and ethnic issues, not on issues of social welfare, though these may also be important to their constituents.

        It is well known that Republicans retire from the House of Representatives at a higher rate than Democrats. But what does this say about their service in the House? Do Republicans retire because they have been frustrated in the minority more frequently than Democrats or is it because of their professional ambitions? Michael H. Murakami has modeled a raft of explanations that scholars have given. He has gathered panel data on all members of the House who served between 1979 and 2004, with information on their careers going all the way back to 1942. His conclusion is that Republicans retire at a higher rate than Democrats, not because of their minority status and not because they have better opportunities in the private sector than their Democratic colleagues. Instead, Murakami shows that it is ideological conservatism that is both associated with the rate of retirement of members of Congress and with a propensity of members to run for higher office. And, as the more conservative members of Congress, this affects Republicans more than Democrats. This leads Murakami to interesting speculations about the conservative attitude toward legislative politics and its consequences for the composition of the U.S. House.

        Beth A. Rosenson looks at a source of influence on members that has escaped careful study although it often attracts public criticism: privately sponsored travel. She has analyzed 15,825 privately financed trips taken by House and Senate members and their staffs between 2001 and 2004. Paying for members’ trips is one of the remaining ways in which organizations can use their resources legally to gain access to members and to influence them. From the very large data base that she has analyzed, Rosenson discerns a great variety of patterns in both the supply of travel by a wide range of groups and the demand for travel by different types of members. She finds understandable the frequency of travel support given to and accepted by members of foreign affairs committees and their staffs and the relatively high frequency of support given to members in leadership positions in Congress. She also detects a reluctance of members who are electorally vulnerable to accept private travel support. But Rosenson’s general conclusion is that this is a subject that may provide new insight into the pattern of interest group influence on legislators and that this first analysis of the subject does not yet provide support for many of the most plausible explanations.

        The distinctive multimember electoral system with single-nontransferable votes used in Japan between 1947 and 1993 generated a considerable body of research on the effect it had on the composition of the Diet. Scholars recognized that the system was sensitive to the number of candidates a party nominated in each multimember district and that party nominating strategy was therefore very important. Dennis Patterson has evaluated party strategies under an assumption that scholars have not previously considered: that the number of candidates nominated by a party affects not only the distribution of an invariant number of votes among the available candidates, but that the number of candidates affects the number of votes itself that the party receives. Patterson’s article evaluates the nominating strategy of Japan’s dominant Liberal Democratic Party, and beyond that it is a contribution to our understanding of the effect of party nominating strategies on the composition of legislatures.

                                                                                                                   —Gerhard Loewenberg
                                                                                                                              Director,
Comparative Legislative Research Center

 

 

We are pleased to announce the appointment of John M. Carey as the Legislative Studies Quarterly’s new editor for manuscripts
dealing with non-U.S. legislatures. Articles edited by Brian Crisp will continue to appear in these pages for several forthcoming issues.
Beginning July 1, 2009, new manuscripts dealing with non-U.S. topics should be submitted to John M. Carey, Department of Government,
HB 6108, Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH 03755. Phone: (603) 646-1130 FAX: (603) 646-2152; email: john.carey@dartmouth.edu.

 

As Brian Crisp completes a three-year term as co-editor, we would like to express our appreciation to him for the significant contribution
he has made to expanding the Quarterly’s interest in work on legislatures outside the United States. His reputation in the field has
attracted a wide range of manuscripts and assured their professional evaluation and editing. He has seen new ways of relating work
on the U.S. Congress to work on non-American legislatures, especially through the innovative series of articles we have been publishing
on "Measuring the Policy Preferences of Legislators." The co-editors and I thank him and look forward to his continued association
with the Quarterly as a member of its Editorial Board.
                                                                                                                                                    — Gerhard Loewenberg

 

 


 Return to May 2009 Titles

 Return to LSQ home page