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This article revisits Nelson Polsby's classic article “The Institutionalization of the U.S. House of Representatives” fifty years after its publication, to examine whether the empirical trends that Polsby identified have continued. This empirical exploration allows us to place Polsby's findings in broader historical context and to assess whether the House has continued along the “institutionalization course”—using metrics that quantify the degree to which the House has erected impermeable boundaries with other institutions, created a complex institution, and adopted universalistic decision-making criteria. We empirically document that careerism plateaued right at the point Polsby wrote “Institutionalization,” and that the extension of the careerism trend has affected Democrats more than Republicans. The House remains complex, but lateral movement between the committee and party leadership systems began to reestablish itself a decade after “Institutionalization” was published. Finally, the seniority system as a mechanism for selecting committee chairs—the primary measure of universalistic decision-making criteria—has been almost thoroughly demolished. Thus, most of the trends Polsby identified have moderated, but have not been overturned. We conclude by considering the larger set of interpretive issues that our empirical investigation poses.
Good education requires student experiences that deliver lessons about practice as well as theory and that encourage students to work for the public good—especially in the operation of democratic institutions (Dewey 1923; Dewy 1938). We report on an evaluation of the pedagogical value of a research project involving 23 colleges and universities across the country. Faculty trained and supervised students who observed polling places in the 2016 General Election. Our findings indicate that this was a valuable learning experience in both the short and long terms. Students found their experiences to be valuable and reported learning generally and specifically related to course material. Postelection, they also felt more knowledgeable about election science topics, voting behavior, and research methods. Students reported interest in participating in similar research in the future, would recommend other students to do so, and expressed interest in more learning and research about the topics central to their experience. Our results suggest that participants appreciated the importance of elections and their study. Collectively, the participating students are engaged and efficacious—essential qualities of citizens in a democracy.
Policymaking in the realm of elections is too often grounded in anecdotes and opinions, rather than in good data and scientific research. To remedy this, The Measure of American Elections brings together a dozen leading scholars to examine the performance of elections across the United States, using a data-driven perspective. This book represents a transformation in debates about election reform, away from partisan and ideological posturing, toward using scientific analysis to evaluate the conduct of contemporary elections. The authors harness the power of newly available data to document all aspects of election administration, ranging from the registration of voters to the counting of ballots. They demonstrate what can be learned from giving serious attention to data, measurement, and objective analysis of American elections.
As was noted in the acknowledgments, this volume originally arose as a way to kill two birds with one stone: to help infuse additional energy into the quantitative analysis of national election policy and to help provide guidance to the Pew Charitable Trusts, which in 2012 was considering whether to launch what eventually emerged as the Elections Performance Index (EPI). At the time the papers for this volume were commissioned, Pew was considering more than twenty indicators for inclusion in the index. Although the authors were given freedom to approach the topics of their chapters how they wished, and to report on any conclusions they reached in the process of doing their analyses, each author (or set of authors) was asked to provide some assessment of the indicators that were most relevant to the topic they addressed.
Readers of this volume will recognize the independence with which the authors pursued their tasks. Some provided explicit discussions of the reliability and validity of a set of possible election index indicators, while other authors were more implicit in their assessments. It is to the credit of the authors that their analyses led to the abandonment of some of the indicators that that been proposed for the EPI. (The clearest example was a proposed indicator concerning the confidence voters had that their votes had been counted as cast. Paul Gronke’s analysis in Chapter 10 provided a good argument that measures of voter confidence are important for understanding how voters think about the elections they participate in, but that survey responses to standard voter confidence questions are too influenced by partisan attitudes to be considered useful for assessing how well state and local officials run elections.) In other cases, the analysis required Pew and its advisory committee to rethink how indicators were measured, or how they were conceptualized.
Info the 1870s, Republican Leaders were preoccupied with the danger that a Southern re-entry into the political system might produce an overthrow of their coalition at the polls and a restoration of the Jacksonian coalition to its former dominance. Nor was this a chimera: the success of the Republican revolution in national policy-making had been predicated upon enormous artificial majorities that were produced in a Congress in which the Southern states were not represented. Indeed, the Republican fears were partially realized after 1872. Southern “Redemption” and the persistence of traditional Northern support for the Democrats resulted in a unique period of partisan deadlock which lasted from 1874 until Republican capture of all branches of the federal government in 1896.