Volume XXVII, Number 4
November 2002

Editor’s Introduction

        Are national political influences in the United States ­diminishing the distinctiveness of political interests within the individual states? Are state interest communities becoming increasingly alike because of the devolution of national policies, similarities in population structures across the states, the integration of national and state lobbying organizations, and the diffusion of lobbying tactics? Some recent research has found evidence of these nationalizing tendencies but Wolak, Newmark, McNoldy, Lowery, and Gray present contrary evidence in the first article in this issue of the Quarterly. They focus on whether the same organizations lobby each of the 50 state legislatures, using state lobby registration lists that include nearly 35,000 registrations. They find that over half of these registrations are strictly local and that the remainder are the product of the lobbying activities of a small number of groups. The larger the economy of a state, the more distinctive the lobbying communities within it. The authors conclude that there is strong evidence of the localism of state interest groups despite powerful nationalizing forces in politics. They explain that paradox by the rapid growth of institutions as lobbying organizations and the propensity of institutions to lobby in only a single state. Their research confirms the importance of comparative studies of interest group representation across the states.

        Another aspect of state legislative politics, the influence of governors over their legislatures, is the subject addressed by Vicky M. Wilkins and Garry Young. They examine the ability of governors to prevent the legislature from overriding their vetoes. To explain variance in the governor’s influence, they test Keith Krehbiel’s theory of Pivotal Politics against a theory of partisan politics. They use data from two gubernatorial administrations in the state of Missouri. Looking at “switchers,” legislators who vote one way on the original passage of legislation and then change in response to a governor’s veto, the authors try to establish whether the governor’s ability to influence “switching” depends on the legislator’s policy indifference or on the legislator’s party loyalty. With data from 18 vetoes and veto override attempts between 1985 and 2000 in the state of Missouri, they find initial evidence for Krehbiel’s pivotal politics explanation. Gubernatorial influence to prevent overrides appears to depend on legislators’ policy positions. But when that result is controlled for party, the evidence shows that governors are most successful with members of their own party. The article demonstrates the importance of using evidence from state legislatures to test theories developed to explain congressional voting behavior.

        The economic voting literature has largely sought to explain voting for President. Thomas J. Rudolph believes that this emphasis has unduly affected how researchers model the influence of citizens’ economic perceptions on their votes for members of Congress. He examines whether the differences between the public’s expectations of Congress and the President, and the differences between the organization and timing of congressional and presidential elections, leads the public to use different economic standards when evaluating President and Congress. Rudolph uses aggregate time-series data on public approval of the President and of Congress and concludes that while the public evaluates the President by prospective perceptions of the direction of the economy, it evaluates Congress by retrospective judgments of own economic condition. This is a plausible consequence of different public expectations of each institution. The public views the President as manager of the economy, but sees members of Congress as advocates of constituents’ economic interests.

        In the history of the U.S. Congress there have been occasional efforts by party caucuses to impose voting discipline on their members. Matthew N. Green examines one famous effort that was undertaken by the Democratic caucus while the party held a majority between 1911 and 1919. Using data on the frequency of caucus meetings, caucus attendance, and caucus action to bind its members on 15 pieces of legislation, Green finds that the caucus was largely unsuccessful in enforcing its decisions on members who had strongly differing views. What does this experience reveal about the propensity of party caucuses to try to control their members’ votes? With congressional voting data from 1889 to 1931, Green tests theories derived from the recent literature on party voting in the House. He shows that the propensity of caucuses to try to bind their members depends on two factors: first, on the existence of party polarization on issues that cut across party lines; and second, on the desire of members to present their party to the electorate as a responsible, democratic, policy-making body. He suggests that neither of these conditions have existed frequently in the past nor are they likely to exist in the future.

        Scholars are finding it increasingly profitable to test findings from research on the U.S. Congress by research on other legislatures. Olga Shvetsova undertakes that task in an unusual setting, that of the Russian Duma. She tests the electoral connection—the correspondence between electoral and legislative strategy. She questions why the Communist party, the clear favorite in the election of 1995, decided not to contest 95 out of 225 constituencies without any quid pro quo from other left-wing parties. She explains the Communist strategy by its effect on the prospective position of the party in the Duma after the election. Shvetsova shows that the Communists had an incentive to permit other small left-wing parties to obtain just enough seats in the Duma to attain minimal caucus status. That made their survival as caucuses, and their right to participate in the influential Council of the Duma, dependent on the willingness of the Communists to lend them a few members whenever their own numbers fell below the threshold. Thereby the Communists, although lacking a majority in the Duma, had effective control over two other factions This enabled them to organize the House. Shvetsova’s case study is a fascinating example of the connection between electoral and legislative strategy in a party-organized legislature.

        Among rapidly developing industrial countries, the city state of Singapore offers a rarely studied and distinctive example of a parliamentary system under one-party control. Hussin Mutalib describes the means used by the dominant People’s Action Party, under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, to control parliamentary decisions by manipulating the electoral system and unusual forms of representation. The result is a unique parliamentary system that has the appearance of emulating the British model while effectively giving a modernizing elite control of the policy-making process.

 —Gerhard Loewenberg


  Return to November 2002 Titles

  Return to LSQ home page