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Krehbiel: Where's the party

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Krehbiel. 1993. Where's the party?. British Journal of Political Science 23: 235-66.

Main Point

Too frequently, scholars observe a 60-40 Congressional vote on partisan lines and conclude that partisanship affects votoing. As Krehbiel observes, correlation is not causation; ideological concerns may have led to the same outcome, independent of partisanship (see Fig 1, 239). Krehbiel addresses three main concerns:

  1. Conceptually, what is significant party behavior? How do we think party affects outcomes?
  2. Methodologically, what would be good evidence of significant party behavior?
  3. Empirically, how significant is party behavior in the US House?


  • X: Partisanship vs preferences of House members
  • Y: Legislative outcomes in the House
  • Premise: If parties matter, then we should see people voting against their preferences as a result of their partisanship. If parties don't matter, then we should see people voting against their partisanship as a result of their preferences.

Krehbiel finds that partisanship has almost no significant effect in the US House. Thus, he rejects the premise that "one important legislative function of political parties is to govern by passing laws that are different from those that would be passed in the absence of parties" (255).

Data and Methods

Krehbiel examines two situations in which partisanship should affect outcomes: Committee assignments and appointment of Conferees (to conference with the Senate on a bill). When it comes to committee assignments, seats are allocated based more on ideology than partisanship. Similarly, Conferees are appointed based on committee and House seniority, not partisanship (see Table 5, pg 256).

Four Common Criticisms (and Krehbiel's Responses)

  1. Parties have other functions than the one he focuses on. Moreover, parties cause policy cleavages, they don't just reflect them.
    • Krehbiel dismisses this because it has few refutable predictions. But just because it's hard to test doesn't mean it isn't true.
  2. Krehbiel's findings are a mere artifact. Rankings of legislators (his measure of preferences/ideology) are based on roll call votes--and in roll call votes, backbenchers are pressured to vote the party line. Thus, Krehbiel's measure of preferences is really a mere measure of partisanship.
    • He claims the data in Table 3 refute this claim (pg 258).
  3. Krehbiel has looked only at one House and at two duties of that House. His focus is too narrow.
    • His response: well, okay, but still, I picked an important duty of parties that should show an effect if there is one. These are "most likely" cases for finding partisan influence.
  4. The findings aren't general outside of the US House.
    • Yes, that's true, but the general approach could be used elsewhere to make similar conclusions.

Response to Rohde

Rohde presented reams of evidence and concluded that partisanship does matter in the House. Krehbiel suggests that what Rohde really found was "preferenceship," not partisanship--Rohde's story looks more like Figure 1a than 1b (pg 239).