Participant observation has provided some of our most impressive insights into the contemporary Congress. In particular, two scholars relied upon this method for results that must be regarded as shaping our current paradigm on Congress and its members: David Mayhew, who, six years after serving as an APSA Congressional Fellow, published his essay, Congress: The Electoral Connection (1974), and Richard Fenno, who traveled with representatives and senators in order to assess how members of Congress interact with their constituents and the impact of those interactions upon their performances in Washington in Home Style (1978) and its companion volume on the Senate (1982).
Despite the influence of these works, some ambiguities remained when I began my stint as a Congressional Fellow in the fall of 1984. For one thing, Mayhew and Fenno had reached different conclusions regarding the impact of the need to run for reelection. Mayhew asserted that congressional behavior and congressional outcomes could be explained solely by the goal of getting reelected; on the other hand, Fenno contended that members could establish separate “home styles” and “Washington styles,” as leeway in the latter increased with more successful presentations of self back home. Likewise, whereas Mayhew made no distinction between the strength of the electoral incentive for representatives and senators, Fenno argued that having longer terms than representatives provided much more temptation for senators to do something besides merely run for reelection. A second ambiguity was that most of Mayhew's and Fenno's fieldwork was accomplished in the early to mid 1970s, before the sea-change in American politics best symbolized by Ronald Reagan's election and the dramatic shifts in policy and in political style that ensued (see especially Edsall, 1984; Chubb and Peterson, 1985). While studies suggest that congressional decision-making has changed only slightly in the Reagan years (e.g., Smith, 1985), the altered electoral environment may have produced far-reaching changes in how the electoral connection shapes Congress.