Volume XXVI, Number 4
November 2001

Editor’s Introduction

 

 

        The first four articles in this issue of the Quarterly deal with various aspects of representation, a perennial subject in legislative research. The first focuses on the role of party. Do parties matter in the United States Congress? That question, strange to students of most legislatures outside of the United States, who are convinced that parties are the dominant influence on the voting behavior of members, continues to be an open question in congressional research. The article by Stephen Ansolabehere, James M. Snyder, Jr., and Charles Stewart III offers important new evidence on the question of whether political parties have an effect on the voting behavior of the members of the U.S. House of Representatives independent of the members’ personal and constituency-based policy preferences. The authors bring to bear a new set of data on the policy preferences of House candidates gathered by surveys conducted during the 1996 and 1998 election campaigns. Following Keith Krehbiel’s definition of what constitutes an independent influence of party, they compare the policy positions taken by members during the election campaign with their roll-call votes. The authors employ a linear factor technique to reduce their extensive survey data on members’ policy preferences to a left-right ideology dimension. They use the same technique to score members’ voting behavior in all roll-call votes in the Congresses that sat between 1994 and 1998.

 

        Their analysis reveals interesting new findings. In over half of all roll-call votes, they detect no noticeable influence of party in Congress beyond what one would expect from the electoral positions of members; in these votes the difference between Republican and Democratic members appears to be due to the differences between the constituencies from which they were elected. But in nearly 45% of all votes, the authors demonstrate that there is a strong independent effect of party. These tend to be procedural votes on the rules of debate and amendment, the votes that influence the relationship between committees and the whole House. Party effects are also strong on close votes and on votes that define the parties: votes on broad economic issues such as taxation and social issues, but not votes on moral issues which the parties prefer to avoid. In general, the authors find evidence for the model posited by Cox and McCubbins, of party discipline designed to protect the parties’ “brand names.” And they conclude that in an age of party polarization in politics, the parties in Congress have had the effect of pulling moderate legislators away from the position of the median voter.

 

        The establishment of a link between members’ policy preferences and the views of their constituents depends on whether members are able to communicate their views to their voters. This is the question that Kim Fridkin Kahn and Patrick J. Kenney address in their examination of voters’ awareness of issues in 57 campaigns for the U.S. Senate between 1988 and 1992. As evidence of voters’ issue awareness, they use the National Election Study survey question asking voters about the principal issue raised by Senate candidates. They compare this with the issue that each candidate’s campaign manager, in a telephone interview, cited as the key issue. Finally they measure media coverage of issues by doing a content analysis of campaign reporting in the largest circulation newspaper in each state. They combine the candidate’s issue emphasis with newspaper coverage as their measure of the information available to voters in the campaign environment. The authors find that campaigns do create two-way communication between members and their constituents, enabling members to make their voters aware of the issues on which they are focusing and enabling voters to express their views. The perception of the issues by the voters varies with the amount of campaign discussion generated by the candidates and the press.

 

        Another measure of constituency influence on congressional voting behavior is found by tracing changing constituency preferences over time and connecting these changes to changes in roll-call votes. M.V. Hood, Quentin Kidd, and Irwin L. Morris investigate the constituency basis of the increasingly liberal position Southern Democratic Senators took on civil rights issues between 1969 and 1996. In effect, they wonder whether the enfranchisement of the black population after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 explains the liberalization of the voting behavior of Southern Democrats or whether it was the competition of an increasingly strong Republican party in the South. With a pooled time-series analysis, the authors use the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) scores of Senators’ positions on civil rights issues as their dependent variable. They test the relative influence of changes in both black and Republican electoral strength. Their conclusion is that the liberalization of Senate Democrats on civil rights issues over this time period was the product both of black enfranchisement and an increasingly competitive two-party system. To gain the support of the black electorate, and to distinguish themselves from the growingly effective Republican mobilization of the conservative electorate, Southern Democrats moved to the left.

 

        The connection between constituents and legislators is not only provided by their policy agreements, but by their “likeness,” that is, their ability to mirror each other’s identity. Hanna Pitkin called this “descriptive representation.” Katherine Tate examines whether black voters’ satisfaction with their representative is to some extent dependent on their representative’s race rather than issue position. With data from a 1996 telephone survey, the National Black Election Study, Tate develops a multivariate model of the determinants of black constituents’ approval of and feeling toward their representative in the U.S. House. She finds that only a legislator’s political party has a larger impact on a black constituent’s satisfaction than the legislator’s race. It is her conjecture that since a legislator’s race is more salient than his or her voting record or competence, it provides constituents with an easier way to judge whether a member is representative than does policy agreement between constituent and member. The conclusion is that descriptive representation matters.

 

        The remaining articles in this issue consider two other subjects of central interest to legislative scholars, legislative-executive relations and interest group influence. Scott R. Meinke and William D. Anderson test Richard Neustadt’s assertion that the president’s legislative leadership depends on Congress’s perception of presidential power. They focus on whether an impairment of presidential power occurred as a result of the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration and the Iran-contra affair during the Reagan administration. Their dependent variable is measured by “key votes” cast by members of Congress between 1970 and 1974, and between 1985 and 1989. The authors also use Gallup poll measures of presidential popularity, consider members’ party affiliation, and employ indicators of members’ ideology. They measure the intensity of scandal by the frequency of front-page coverage in the Washington Post. Their conclusion is that the existence of salient scandals during the Nixon and Reagan administrations had the effect of weakening presidential leadership independent of changes in presidential popularity in the nation. They also offer preliminary evidence that the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal had the same effect. Their article suggests that the existence of scandal constrains presidential influence in Congress, widens the difference between the policy position of the President and Congress, and further disappoints the public’s expectations of presidential leadership.

 

        The final article in this issue investigates the effect of the increasing professionalization of state legislatures on the effectiveness of interest groups. In recent years there has been considerable research on interest groups at the U.S. state level. Rosenthal’s book-length treatment (1993) provided a comprehensive description of lobbyists and lobbying. A second advance has been Gray and Lowery’s use of population ecology to explain interest group communities. In a variety of publications (e.g., 1995, 1996), they demonstrate that environmental factors confronting interest organizations shape the contours of interest group populations. At the same time, a substantial literature (e.g., Squire 1988, 1993; Freeman and Hedlund 1993) has been developing on the consequences of legislative professionalism. Michael B. Berkman relates the findings of these two sets of literature by testing whether the institutional context of the legislature has an impact on the number of interest groups in a state. He asks whether interest group organizations respond differently depending on the level of professionalism exhibited by the legislature. Using generally accepted measures of professionalism—time spent in session, salary and staff assistance—he finds that institutional contexts do affect interest group “density.” As legislatures become more professional, they are presumably less dependent on interest groups for information. Consequently, interest groups become less effective and tend to withdraw from the interest group system. This study suggests that the formation and survival of interest groups, usually regarded as the product of the economic and political environment, is also affected by institutional characteristics of the legislatures that they attempt to influence.

 —Gerhard Loewenberg


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