The field of legislative studies encompasses a wide range of topics, as evidenced by the articles included in this issue of the Quarterly. They focus on a number of different subjects, from discharge petitions in the U.S. House, to the relationship between governors and federal deputies in the Mexican governmental system, to leadership power in U.S. state legislatures. Additionally, the predictive power of special elections to the U.S. House is assessed, partisan and nonpartisan theories of lawmaking are tested, and a new measure of ideological heterogeneity is introduced.
Ever since Keith Krehbiel asked provocatively "where’s the party?", congressional scholars have grappled with the methodological challenges of disentangling the independent effects of political party and personal policy preferences. In this issue, we present two different approaches to tackling this problem, both focusing on the U.S. House of Representatives. In the first article, Edward H. Stiglitz and Barry R. Weingast present evidence that the statistical model that produces the IDEAL scores of members produces better cutpoint estimates than the NOMINATE model. They then use these new cutpoint estimates to test theories of lawmaking, making specific predictions about the absence of cutpoints in certain policy space intervals in each theory. Examining all final passage, veto override, and conference report votes in the U.S. House between 1959 and 2008, the authors generate findings that are more supportive of Gary Cox and Mathew McCubbins’s party cartel theory of negative agenda control than of Krehbiel’s pivotal politics theory. Perhaps the strongest evidence is provided by the dramatic shift of cutpoints in the predicted partisan directions following the 1994 and 2006 elections. Not all of the findings reported by Stiglitz and Weingast, however, are consistent with the party cartel model as posited by Cox and McCubbins. Most interestingly, the analysis here demonstrates that the majority party’s negative agenda control has increased appreciably since the House reforms of the early 1970s.
In the second article on party power, Susan M. Miller and L. Marvin Overby examine the behavior of sponsors and cosponsors of bills involved in the 106 discharge petitions filed in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1993 and 2006. This extensive dataset gives the authors considerable leverage on the question of the extent to which a party can nudge members away from their personal policy preferences. Miller and Overby demonstrate that wafflers—members who either sponsored or cosponsored legislation that is the subject of a discharge petition but who opted not to sign it—were drawn disproportionally from the ranks of the majority party. The majority party, of course, has good reason to protect committee prerogatives; therefore it has good reason to dissuade its members from signing discharge petitions. The authors argue that majority party member behavior on discharge petitions provides strong evidence that parties in the U.S. House enjoy cartel powers that can, at least in this instance, override member policy preferences.
Understanding when legislative leaders are invested with power by rank-and-file members is the focus of Jesse Richman’s article. Richman examines the powers exercised by lower house speakers in American state legislatures. He posits that leaders are granted greater formal powers when member policy preferences are well-aligned and when the legislature faces substantial policymaking challenges. He tests this idea by decomposing Richard Clucas’s measure of leadership power into its constituent parts. Exploiting the leverage offered by examining a large number of different legislative chambers (in this case 48), the analysis confirms the author’s main hypothesis: the strongest speakers are found in chambers where majority party members are in agreement over goals and where they face considerable policymaking problems. Additionally, the analysis also reveals that leadership powers weaken as legislative professionalization increases and that more competitive electoral environments increase a speaker’s institutional powers but decrease procedural powers.
In the United States, state governors are not usually thought to directly influence the voting behavior of their state’s representatives in the national legislature, but Joy Langston demonstrates that under certain conditions this happens in Mexico. Langston investigates the relationship between Mexican governors and their state’s deputies in the federal lower house. In Mexico, governors are interested primarily in federal budget bills because the vast majority of the money available to spend at the state level comes from the federal government. Governors have considerable influence over their state’s deputies on these measures because they can greatly help or hinder a deputy’s political career. Governors have a prominent role in getting deputies nominated for office, and once a deputy’s single-term limit is fulfilled, they can help them get another political post. Using evidence from elite interviews and data on deputy political careers, Langston weaves together a convincing story about the ability of governors to lean on their state’s deputies to vote to secure more funds for the state budget. She also runs an empirical test on this relationship, using a hotly contested budget vote that split the major party to uncover direct evidence of the influence of governors on their deputies’ votes.
Ideological heterogeneity in an electoral unit is a variable of considerable theoretical import in legislative studies and Matthew S. Levendusky and Jeremy C. Pope develop a new method of measuring it. The technique, which the authors argue is flexible and can be employed in a wide range of polities, incorporates both the variance in individuals’ attitudes and the ideological distance between primary groups (typically, but not necessarily, political parties) in an electoral unit. They validate this new method of measuring ideological heterogeneity using data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The authors also demonstrate that demographics, which scholars often rely on to measure ideological heterogeneity, are not a particularly good proxy for it.
Finally, David R. Smith and Thomas L. Brunell provide a thorough examination of the predictive power of special elections for the U.S. House. Analyzing a dataset that includes all special elections held from 1900 to 2008, they find that whether a party wins more special elections than it loses in the period between general elections does not predict whether that party wins or loses seats in the following general election. Unpacking these data, however, the authors find that a net change in party control of the seats that are contested in special elections does have predictive power for the general election. The results of this article suggest a new wrinkle for congressional elections forecasting models.
— Peverill Squire
Return to May 2010 Titles
Return to LSQ home page