Recent controversies over the degree of responsibility displayed by American parties have underscored at least one feature of voting in the Congress. Whatever the merits of the contending interpretations and demands, the facts adduced on both sides suggest relatively fluid, unstructured voting patterns, especially in the House of Representatives. Although the party label is clearly the single most reliable indicator of congressional voting behavior, it is admittedly somewhat less than perfect. The individual Representative may fairly often dissent from the views of most of his party colleagues, not only on matters of local or minor significance but also on issues of national or even global import.
The Representative's “independence” is most commonly, and in a good many instances accurately, ascribed to peculiarities of his constituency which generate demands for a non-conforming vote or, perhaps more frequently, are expected to be the source of recriminations and penalities if he does not display independence of his party colleagues on certain types of issues. But the Member of Congress is by no means always able to predict the electoral consequences of his choices even though he is sure that they may produce repercussions in his district.