While there may be no evidence that television ads and TV news coverage contribute to incumbency advantage, what about coverage in other media? Brian Schaffner compares television coverage with newspaper coverage in congressional districts during 1999. His data consist of counts of newspaper stories and television newscasts, and survey data from the National Election Studies. He finds that coverage varies widely, depending on the congruence of district boundaries and media markets. Coverage tends to favor incumbents, more so in newspapers than on television, because newspaper stories reflect members’ efforts to report what they have done for their district. Schaffner shows that local newspaper coverage contributes to voters’ perception of whether their representatives are keeping in touch with their constituency while television coverage has no such effect. The author concludes that newspaper coverage contributes to support for incumbents even among voters of the opposite party. His findings are consistent with those reported by Ansolabehere, Snowberg, and Snyder, and indeed supplement their article.
Legislatures, like other political institutions, have a status quo bias. Those who design them intend them to be difficult to change—to bind their successors by creating a system of rules that are not easily altered. Yet legislative institutions usually control their own rules and a considerable literature exists explaining the determinants and the consequences of rules changes. Sarah Binder tests two competing explanations that exist in theories of the development of procedure in the U.S. House of Representatives. One theory posits that change is controlled by the majority party in its partisan interests. The other proposes that it is controlled by the House median and is therefore responsive to the ideological balance among members. Her data covers nearly the entire history of the U.S. Congress, from its beginning in 1789 to the 100th Congress in 1990. She derives her independent variables from existing partisan and nonpartisan theories, notably that of Eric Schickler and that drawn from her own study of the suppression of minority rights. Her conclusion is nuanced. She finds that in its first century, the House developed a core regime that gradually gave the majority party the power to set the agenda without minority influence. But ironically, once the rules changes associated with Speaker Thomas Reed established majority control over the agenda in the 1890s, shifts in the floor median could incrementally reallocate some power to the minority. For a time toward the end of the 20th century this gave agenda control to a cohesive, liberal majority. But Binder notes that the important relationship between procedural change and policy outcomes has yet to be explored.
The policy preferences of Congress may have
surprisingly indirect effects, not only through the enactment of legislation but
through its judicial interpretation. There has been a long line of research to
determine whether the political preferences of the U.S. Congress influence the
constitutional decisions of the presumably independent
The last two articles in this issue deal with the professionalization of
legislatures. They exemplify the value of comparative research across the large
number of legislative chambers in the states of the
In a further exploration of legislative professionalization, Neal D. Woods and Michael Baranowski investigate whether professionalization really increases legislative control of the bureaucracy. The authors distinguish between the increases in institutional resources that professionalization brings and the increasing careerism to which it also contributes. Their data derive from a mail survey of 991 agency directors in a diverse sample of 15 states in the summer of 2000, asking respondents to compare the influence of legislators with that of governors, interest groups, state courts, and other agencies. They used separate measures of legislative resources, distinguishing those like staff and session length, which would increase the influence of the legislatures over government agencies, from those like salary, which would contribute to careerism and motivate members to concentrate on reelection. The authors conclude that institutional resources that legislatures acquire through professionalization provide an opportunity for greater influence over the bureaucracy. However, to the extent that these resources encourage careerism, they distract members from legislative oversight. This finding has implications for the continuing debate over term limits. Insofar as term limits reduce careerism among legislators, they may increase legislative oversight, but they also reduce the ability of members to gain expertise through experience. Disentangling the two components of legislative professionalization is therefore an important undertaking.
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