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Weisberg, Heberlig, and Campoli: Classics in Congressional politics

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Weisberg, Heberlig, and Campoli. 1999. Classics in Congressional politics. New York: Longman.

Classics in Congressional Politics is a collection of articles and book excerpts that defined our current understanding of Congress. Usually, it would not be necessary to list such a book in WikiSummary; however, this volume's authors did us the great favor of prefacing each section with a literature review and synthesis of each section's arguments. As such, the notes below represent a summary of their synthesis, with brief summaries of the individual readings included. For more detail, look up the individual books and articles that have been listed below.

Note that MC means "Member of Congress."

Part II: Representation

  • The traditional debate was whether MCs are Burkean "trustees" (who make independent decisions) or "delegates" (who simply vote as their constituency wants).
    • Miller and Stokes (1963, an ANES paper) argue that representation styles differ depending on issue area. On social issues, Democrats vote liberal while Republicans vote conservative. But on civil rights, the delegate model was at play: southerners vote one way, northerners another (regardless of party). Finally, neither model held on foreign affairs, in which both parties ceded control to the executive. In any policy area, however, voters tend to know very little about what their representative is actually doing. Method: Survey constituents and their MCs and compare the results. They have been criticized for their methodology (since there are often fewer than twenty respondents per district).
    • Fenno (1978) argues that there are multiple constituencies, not just one. The broadest constituency is 'Geographic', followed by the 'Reelection', 'Primary', and 'Personal' constituencies. Fenno (1977) also argues that MCs develp a "home style," a way of presenting themselves to their districts so that constituents believe "I am one of you." He also argued that a district's homo/heterogeneity might matter, though later studies have shown it does not.
  • Others (Eulau and Karps 1977) see four separate means of representation: policy responsiveness, constituent service, pork-barrel ("allocation"), and symbolic/descriptive representation (building trust, etc.). Both legislators and constituents tend to see both policy and service represenation as important. This all fits with Mayhew's (1974) argument that legislators will emphasize their credit-claiming activities (constituent service and pork) over policy representation (to appeal to different constituencies).

Part III: Elections (Ambition theory, incumbency, strategic entry, term limits)

  • Ambition theory: Early approaches theorized about candidates' ambitions. Ambitious House members, for example, will decide whether to run for Senate or governor based on the value of the higher office, the probability of winning it, and the value of their current office (Rohde 1979).
  • Incumbency: At first, analysts focused on the incumbency advantage. Though Stokes and Miller (1962) initially thought that voters know little about their MCs (not even their names), it turns out that the ANES is flawed (e.g. people can't name the MC, but they recognize the name). Mayhew (1974) observed that franking, pork, visibility, issue specialization (from committee membership), large personal staffs, and large travel allowances all contribued to the incumbency advantage. Efforts to measure this advantage focused on the "sophomore surge" and the "retirement slump" in a party's vote share in each district.
  • Jacobson (1990) eventually shifted the focus toward "challenger quality": studying why quality challengers enter a race. They enter not only when the local incumbent is vulnerable, but also when national conditions are conducive to an opposition campaign. This helped solve an old puzzle: Why voters' votes do not correlate with national economic conditions, but Congressional seat shares (by party) do. The solution: National economic conditions led higher-quality challengers to enter. Jacobson measured quality with a dummy: Previous electoral office. Squire eventually contributed a six-point measure. Jacobson also showed why incumbents who spend the most lose the most: They spend more in response to a higher quality, better funded challenger. And if a challenger has a good fundraising base, then you know he is high quality.

Part IV: Legislative Norms and Rules

  • Matthews ("folkways" of the Senate), Asher ("the learning of legislative norms"), Sinclair (emphasis on formal rules).
  • Until the 1950s and 1960s, Congressional analysts focused on formal rules. Then, they started looking at norms of behavior, only to return to formal rules in the 1980s. Matthews (1973) identifies several of these norms (in the Senate) and asks what kind of Senators ignore the norms. Asher studies freshman Representatives (House) to see when they learn the norms, and finds that they know the norms as well on their first day as half a year into the job, implying that their former experience, their campaigning, and their other knowledge led them to already be informed of the norms before arriving. Sinclair, using the modern emphasis on rules, says nothing about norms whatsoever. Instead, she discusses the many different rules that can be used to influence how a bill becomes law.