Americans, Congress, and Democratic Responsiveness
Public Evaluations of Congress and Electoral Consequences
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Our biggest debt in this project is to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. It is extraordinarily unlikely we would have started on this line of research absent the 1994 Republican revolution, led by Gingrich, and the Republicans’ policy-rich Contract with America. The Republican takeover of Congress, their subsequent policy actions, and the public’s reactions sparked a conversation between the two ...
Prior to the 2006 congressional elections, conventional wisdom in political science suggested that the battle for control of the House would be close. Some academic forecasting models predicted that Republicans would hold on to a narrow majority, others that Democrats would gain enough seats to overtake them. Virtually none, however, predicted that Republicans would lose as many as the thirty seats ...
2. Responding to Congressional Policy
One of our main arguments in this book is that the public responds to congressional policy behavior when evaluating the performance of Congress. As we discussed in the introduction, this argument is consistent with the thinking of many political commentators and members of Congress themselves, but key elements of the argument may raise some eyebrows in the scholarly community. The first such element is our argument that Americans desire policy representation from Congress.
3. Failing Pop Quizzes but Passing the Test
We demonstrated in the previous chapter that Americans care about the policy orientation of Congress. What we could not tell from the preceding test, however, is whether citizens operating in the noisy environment of the real world have the ability to receive and process the information necessary to evaluate Congress in line with their personal policy preferences. While it may be relatively straightforward in an experimental survey situation, performing such a task in the confusing ....
4. Evaluating Congress Ideologically
In the spring of 2007, Americans witnessed a classic game of chicken between the president, George W. Bush, and the newly elected and installed Democratic Congress. In early spring, the president asked Congress to pass a supplemental defense appropriation to continue funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To the delight of those who saw the Iraq War as immoral and to the consternation of those who viewed it as vital to the War on Terror, Democrats sent the president a ....
5. Voting the Bums Out
One of the most famous puzzles in the study of Congress is that while a majority of Americans frequently disapprove of Congress as a whole, Americans by and large continue to vote to keep their individual member of Congress in office. According to the time series data we compiled in chapter 4, public approval of Congress’s job performance averaged only 37 percent from 1974 through 2006, but during the same period, an average of two-thirds of Americans cast ballots to reelect their ...
6. Riding the Electoral Wave
The composition of Congress is determined not only by the decisions of voters but also by potential candidates’ decisions on whether or not to run for office. Smart politicians will be strategic when making this decision. According to Jacobson and Kernell (1983), being strategic in this context involves taking into account how national political conditions prior to an election might affect one’s prospects for success in that election.
7. Responding to Public Evaluations
Conventional wisdom in political science suggests that Congress is not responsive to public evaluations of its performance, as discussed in chapter 1. This belief is largely based on two related lines of thinking. First, observers note that although Americans tend to disapprove of Congress, congressional incumbents tend to win reelection. In fact, from 1974 through 2006, 96 percent of running incumbents were reelected.
We began this book by arguing that the conventional wisdom in political science regularly underestimates both the American public’s political abilities and the responsiveness of Congress to the public. The contribution we most hope to make is to encourage scholars to take a look at the democratic citizenry and institutions in this country in a new and more positive light. Unlike many studies on American government that conclude the system is broken— ...
9. The 2008 Congressional Elections: An Afterword
The preceding chapters of this book present our theory and evidence of how the public judges Congress ideologically and how Americans express their resulting frustrations or (much more rarely) satisfaction with Congress’s performance in the form of votes against or for the majority party’s candidates in elections. These chapters were written primarily after the 2006 congressional elections but before the 2008 congressional elections.
Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 29 Tables, 12 Figures
Publication Year: 2009
Edition: New and expanded edition
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Americans, Congress, and Democratic Responsiveness