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Electoral Choice and Popular Control of Public Policy: The Case of the 1966 House Elections*

  • John L. Sullivan (a1) and Robert E. O'Connor (a2)

Abstract

This paper examines two neglected conditions of the linkage process between public opinion and public policy, in an effort to evaluate an explanation, other than voter apathy and ignorance, of why the linkage appears to be so weak. These conditions are: (1) Opposing candidates for the same elective office must differ in their issue-related attitudes. (2) The winners' subsequent behavior vis-à-vis public policy must be consonant with their pre-election issue-related attitudes.

By the use of data collected before the 1966 House election, the amount of choice, or issue-related differences between candidates for the same House seat, is examined in all 435 Congressional districts. Sufficient differences were found in three policy areas—foreign affairs, civil rights, and domestic welfare—to imply that the electorate was given the opportunity to determine the direction of public policy.

Adding data collected on the roll-call behavior of the 435 winners allowed us to examine the second condition. Although in some cases there were substantial differences between pre-election attitude and postelection roll-call behavior on the same issue, this is clearly the exception rather than the rule. As a generalization, the second condition appears to be true.

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This paper could not have been written without the assistance of several individuals. Milton C. Cummings and Donald R. Matthews helped us obtain the data. A special debt is owed to I. A. Lewis, Manager of NBC News, Election Unit. He allowed us access to the data and provided us with technical assistance. The data were originally collected by Congressional Quarterly for NBC News. Financial assistance was provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. The first-named author would like to express his gratitude to the Psychology and Politics Program of Yale University and to NIMH for time and financial assistance in the form of a Postdoctoral Fellowship.

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1 Dahl, Robert, A Preface to Democratic Theory (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1956), chapters 3 and 5.

2 Downs, Anthony, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper, 1957), pp. 2324.

3 Mayo, Henry B., An Introduction to Democratic Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), chapter 4.

4 Berns, Walter, “A Critique of Berelson, Lazarsfeld, and McPhee's Voting,” in Public Opinion and Public Policy: Models of Political Linkage, ed. Luttbeg, Norman R. (Homewood, Illinois: Dorsey, 1968), p. 32.

5 Miller, Warren E. and Stokes, Donald E., “Constituency Influence in Congress,” American Political Science Review, 57 (03, 1963), 49.

6 See, for example, Converse, Philip E., “The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics,” Ideology and Discontent, ed. Apter, David (New York: Free Press, 1964), pp. 206261, and Luttbeg, Public Opinion and Public Policy.

7 An exception to this statement is found in Fishel, Jeff, “Party, Ideology, and the Congressional Challenger,” American Political Science Review, 63 (12, 1969), 12131232.

8 John L. Sullivan, “Linkage Models of the Political System,” Public Opinion and Political Attitudes: A Reader, ed. Alan R. Wilcox, forthcoming.

9 See, among others, Truman, David B., The Congressional Party (New York: Wiley, 1959); Turner, Julius, Party and Constituency: Pressures on Congress (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1951); and MacRae, Duncan, Dimensions of Congressional Voting (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1958).

10 Fishel, p. 1221.

11 Sullivan, Part V.

12 The individual voter cannot arrive at this conclusion unless he has first familiarized himself with the issue positions of the candidates and the later roll-call behavior of the winners. We know that the possession of this information is the exception rather than the rule. If, however, a district (or an entire political system) has in the recent past offered little choice, it may become part of the collective attitude of the citizenry that all attempts to gather this type of information are wasted.

13 Rose, Richard and Mossawir, Harve, “Voting and Elections: A Functional Analysis,” Political Studies, 15 (06, 1967), 173201.

14 See Appendix A for the questionnaire, roll calls, and scaling. Congressional Quarterly was able to obtain a 100 per cent response rate by making ample use of telephone followups. In several cases, aides answered the questions, but presumably they gave the same answers the candidate would have given. If the incumbent was absent for a roll call, he was asked how he would have voted had he been present.

15 The roll calls for the 90th Congress are presented in Appendix B. If the representative was absent but announced for or against, we accepted this announcement as indicating how he would have voted had he been present. If there was no information available, we coded his response as a moderate one, except where otherwise noted (Table 7).

16 One complicating factor is the amount of choice offered in the primary elections. The available evidence, however, suggests that issues only weakly define primary elections. See Key, V. O. Jr., Southern Politics (New York: Knopf, 1949), pp. 105, 117, 142. The evidence further suggests that the amount of choice offered in primary elections in safe districts is not great. For example, Turner, Julius, “Primary Elections as the Alternative to Party Competition in ‘Safe’ Districts,” Journal of Politics, 15 (05, 1953), 197210, found that, between the years 1944–1950, only half the primaries in safe districts were even contested. No doubt the candidates differed only marginally on the issues in at least some of the contested primaries.

17 In each case, the most liberal and most conservative Congresses are based on the scores within the issue domain considered, rather than on the overall scale scores. Again, because of the scalability of the items, the most liberal and most conservative Congresses do not differ appreciably even when the overall scale scores are used to determine which candidate is more liberal. In no case is the mean or median different from those presented in Tables 3–5 because there are very few cases where one candidate is more liberal on the overall liberalism-conservatism scale but more conservative on one of the within-issue area scales, or vice versa. It was done this way to ensure that Tables 3–5 present the most conservative and most liberal Congresses possible in each issue cluster. The same procedure is followed in the data presented in Table 12.

18 Riker, William, The Theory of Political Coalitions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962).

19 Miller, and Stokes, , “Constituency Influence in Congress,” p. 48, report correlations between the true opinion of Congressmen (as measured by a questionnaire) and their roll-call behavior of 0.75 among those who felt their attitudes were expressed in their roll calls, but only 0.04 among those who felt that they were not.

20 Wicker, Allan W., “Attitudes versus Actions: The Relationship of Verbal and Overt Behavioral Responses to Attitude Objects,” Journal of Social Issues, 25 (Autumn, 1969), 65.

21 Wicker, pp. 67–74.

22 There were no roll calls comparable to the foreign affairs, labor, or voting rights items of the pre-election scale. Therefore, in the tables that follow, these items have been dropped from the initial measures. The included roll calls are listed in Appendix B. It should also be noted that the foreign affairs data are questionnaire responses for both incumbents and nonincumbents (see Appendix A). Therefore, although we cannot examine the linkage condition in foreign affairs, the methodological question of comparability does not arise.

23 Gamma is stronger than Sommer's dxy because it ignores all ties. It considers only the concordant and discordant pairs, while Somer's dxy is penalized for every case in which the dependent variable varies but the independent variable does not vary. The actual theoretical relationships of Tables 7–10 are probably overestimated by the strength of gamma because if two cases are tied on one variable but not on the other, they ought not to be ignored unless the theory predicts that this should happen. This is not the case here. Conversely, Somer's dxy probably underestimates the relationship because some of the cases which lower Somer's dxy, cases which differ on the dependent variable but not on the independent variable, do so because of measurement error. Two nonincumbents whose preelection scores are 8 on domestic issues might be expected to differ in postelection behavior because the intermediate option is not so easily taken on roll calls as it is on questionnaires, and their reasons for hedging on one issue in the pre-election questionnaire may be quite different, leading to a different postelection roll-call decision. Somer's dxy is included, however, to illustrate the range of values obtained, depending on the method of handling ties. Somer's dxy was selected over dyx, which is reduced by cases which vary on the independent but not the dependent variable, because of the nature of the two different kinds of measurement. The questionnaire allowed more options than a roll call, in that abstention on a roll call is more difficult than selecting the intermediate option on a questionnaire. Therefore, the situation of variation on the independent variable coupled with ties on the dependent variable is slightly more likely to occur than is variation on the dependent variable coupled with ties on the independent variable.

24 Shapiro, Michael J., “Rational Political Man: A Synthesis of Economic and Social-Psychological Perspectives,” American Political Science Review, 63 (12, 1969), 11061119.

25 Brown, Steven R. and Taylor, Richard W., “Objectivity and Subjectivity in Concept Formation: Problems of Perspective, Partition, and Frames of Reference,” paper delivered at the sixty-sixth annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Los Angeles, California, 09, 1970.

26 Miller and Stokes, p. 50, report correlations between constituency majority and congressional roll-call votes of 0.4, and between district majority and nonincumbent candidate attitudes of −0.4, in the social welfare policy domain. This suggests that within the confines of the amount and kind of choice presented, the masses are indeed selecting those elites whose attitudes are most congruent with their own. The fact that the congruency is not higher may be due primarily to the differing attitudinal structures of elites and nonelites.

27 If the electorate votes primarily on the basis of party identification and if these identifications are unevenly distributed within a large percentage of districts, the result is a lack of intradistrict competition. If this uneven distribution of identifications reflects an equally uneven distribution of opinions and preferences on issues, then linkage could occur without a choice of candidates who differ in their issue positions. Therefore the optimal amount of choice in each district would depend on its internal distribution of opinion. Since data of this nature are not available, this analysis has focused on the systemic, rather than district, consequences of choice. From this framework, the more choice, the greater the opportunity for the electorate as a whole to exercise control over policy.

28 Turner, , “Primary Elections,” p. 198.

29 In all three issue clusters, the actual Congress resembles the most conservative Congress probable, given the existence of a large number of safe districts. To the extent that it makes sense to label an election a liberal or a conservative victory, the 1966 House election was a conservative victory.

* This paper could not have been written without the assistance of several individuals. Milton C. Cummings and Donald R. Matthews helped us obtain the data. A special debt is owed to I. A. Lewis, Manager of NBC News, Election Unit. He allowed us access to the data and provided us with technical assistance. The data were originally collected by Congressional Quarterly for NBC News. Financial assistance was provided by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health. The first-named author would like to express his gratitude to the Psychology and Politics Program of Yale University and to NIMH for time and financial assistance in the form of a Postdoctoral Fellowship.

Electoral Choice and Popular Control of Public Policy: The Case of the 1966 House Elections*

  • John L. Sullivan (a1) and Robert E. O'Connor (a2)

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