The assumption that the U.S. Congress cannot influence foreign policy seems confirmed by the apparent inability of a Congress controlled by the Democratic Party after 2006 to influence the conduct of the Iraq War. That may be one reason why the public evaluates the performance of Congress even more negatively than the performance of the President in the context of an increasingly unpopular war. The first two articles in this issue of the Quarterly provide clear evidence that the congressional election of 2006 did turn considerably on the issue of the war. Douglas L. Kriner and Francis X. Shen compare the vote share of Democratic and Republican candidates in the senatorial elections of 2000 and 2006. They use the incidence of war casualties and of casualty rates as their indicator of the impact of the war, testing whether the uneven distribution of battle deaths across states and across counties within states explains variance in vote shares between the parties. Casualties and casualty rates during the Vietnam War had had a strong negative effect on Senators’ vote shares between 1966 and 1972. Kriner and Shen demonstrate that Iraq War casualties have had the same effect, even at a far lower casualty rate than during the Vietnam War. So voters are demonstrably sensitive to the costs of war when the conduct of that war is the issue.
Christian R. Grose and Bruce I. Oppenheimer provide additional evidence of the influence of the Iraq War, taking their evidence from the 2006 elections for members of the U.S. House of Representatives. They find that between the House elections of 2004 and 2006, the swing from Republican to Democratic votes can be explained by three factors related to the war: casualties experienced in the district, the position taken by the incumbent on the resolution that authorized the use of force in Iraq four years earlier, and Republican party responsibility for an increasingly unpopular war. The authors refer to “anticipatory representation theory,” which asserts that legislators will be guided in their decisions not only by present voter opinion but by their expectations of the electorate’s eventual judgments. This suggests that congressional influence on the Iraq War has not yet been fully felt.
The issue of national defense, going beyond the Iraq War, has had another, quite subtle influence on the U.S. Congress. It has raised the importance of competence on defense issues for the reputations of individual Senators, with implications for gender-specific stereotypes. Michele Swers has investigated gender differences in participation on defense issues in the Senate between 2001 and 2004, using bill sponsorship, appearance on television talk shows, and interviews with Senators’ staffs as measures of participation. She concludes that women face distinctive obstacles in developing reputations on defense issues as do members of the Democratic Party, so that Democratic women have special difficulty establishing their credibility in this newly important policy area. They have faced that challenge by concentrating on issues of homeland security and have tried to use other compensatory strategies. Senators with military backgrounds have decided advantages in developing a public profile on defense issues.
The responsiveness of legislators to their constituencies depends on their perception of the constituency which, in turn, depends on the flow of information they receive. Kristina C. Miler examines that important but little studied link in the process of representation. She interviewed 40 legislative staff members in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 on health policy to identify the subconstituencies which were salient to the member’s office. She employed a hierarchical linear model to estimate which constituencies the member was likely to perceive. Swers concludes that members see their district in terms of the subconstituencies that contact their office most frequently in person or by mail and those that mail financial contributions. A surprising finding is that the size of the subconstituency and its importance in reelection efforts does not matter. Information accessibility determines what a member sees.
Before the decline in President Bush’s popularity in the wake of the Iraq War, his ability to provide support for congressional candidates of his own party was demonstrated in the election of 2002, which was one of only three elections in more than a century in which the president’s party gained seats in a mid-term election. Paul S. Herrnson and Irwin L. Morris studied the three dozen separate campaign visits that president Bush made to 22 Republican congressional candidates in the 2002 campaign. They find that the President was most likely to visit candidates engaged in competitive contests and that his visits helped these candidates to win. The candidate’s support of the President in Congress was not a factor influencing his selection of districts for campaign visits. The President’s main goal was apparently to increase his party’s majority in Congress, and his efforts had considerable success.
The final article is a study of the effect of electoral systems on policy outcomes in the U.S. environment in which there would seem to be little electoral system variance. But until recently, nearly half of the members of the lower houses of state legislatures were elected in multimember districts. The change from such districts starting in the 1960s as a result of court decisions, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and partisan controversies, provides a natural experiment for an analysis of the relative influence of electoral systems on policy outcomes. James M. Snyder, Jr. and Michiko Ueda compare the money received from state governments by metropolitan areas when an area was represented by legislators in multimember districts with the money received when redistricting shifted the area to single-member constituencies. They find that contrary to the expectation that at-large representation in multimember districts would disadvantage an area, a change to singlemember districts led to a decrease in funding. The theory that legislators in multimember districts would engage in “free-riding” in representing their districts may have to be amended to take account of the countervailing effect in multimember districts. Members representing such districts “at-large” may engage in bloc voting to advance the interests of their common economic community, and may not face the externalities that influence policy decisions in smaller constituencies.
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