Why Not Parties?: Party Effects in the United States Senate

University of Chicago Press
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Recent research on the U.S. House of Representatives largely focuses on the effects of partisanship, but the strikingly less frequent studies of the Senate still tend to treat parties as secondary considerations in a chamber that gives its members far more individual leverage than congressmen have. In response to the recent increase in senatorial partisanship, Why Not Parties? corrects this imbalance with a series of original essays that focus exclusively on the effects of parties in the workings of the upper chamber. Illuminating the growing significance of these effects, the contributors explore three major areas, including the electoral foundations of parties, partisan procedural advantage, and partisan implications for policy. In the process, they investigate such issues as whether party discipline can overcome Senate mechanisms that invest the most power in individuals and small groups; how parties influence the making of legislation and the distribution of pork; and whether voters punish senators for not toeing party lines. The result is a timely corrective to the notion that parties don’t matter in the Senate—which the contributors reveal is far more similar to the lower chamber than conventional wisdom suggests.
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About the author

Nathan W. Monroe is assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Merced. Jason M. Roberts is assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. David W. Rohde is the Ernestine Friedl Professor of Political Science at Duke University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Aug 1, 2009
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Pages
282
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ISBN
9780226534947
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / Legislative Branch
Political Science / General
Political Science / Political Process / Political Parties
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Since the Second World War, congressional parties have been characterized as declining in strength and influence. Research has generally attributed this decline to policy conflicts within parties, to growing electoral independence of members, and to the impact of the congressional reforms of the 1970s. Yet the 1980s witnessed a strong resurgence of parties and party leadership—especially in the House of Representatives.

Offering a concise and compelling explanation of the causes of this resurgence, David W. Rohde argues that a realignment of electoral forces led to a reduction of sectional divisions within the parties—particularly between the northern and southern Democrats—and to increased divergence between the parties on many important issues. He challenges previous findings by asserting that congressional reform contributed to, rather than restrained, the increase of partisanship. Among the Democrats, reforms siphoned power away from conservative and autocratic committee chairs and put control of those committees in the hands of Democratic committee caucuses, strengthening party leaders and making both party and committee leaders responsible to rank-and-file Democrats. Electoral changes increased the homogeneity of House Democrats while institutional reforms reduced the influence of dissident members on a consensus in the majority party. Rohde's accessible analysis provides a detailed discussion of the goals of the congressional reformers, the increased consensus among Democrats and its reinforcement by their caucus, the Democratic leadership's use of expanded powers to shape the legislative agenda, and the responses of House Republicans. He also addresses the changes in the relationship between the House majority and the president during the Carter and Reagan administrations and analyzes the legislative consequences of the partisan resurgence.

A readable, systematic synthesis of the many complex factors that fueled the recent resurgence of partisanship, Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House is ideal for course use.
The United States routinely has one of the lowest voter turnout rates of any developed democracy in the world. That rate is also among the most internally diverse, since the federal structure allows state-level variations in voting institutions that have had—and continue to have—sizable local effects. But are expansive institutional efforts like mail-in registration, longer poll hours, and “no-excuse” absentee voting uniformly effective in improving voter turnout across states?

With How the States Shaped the Nation, Melanie Jean Springer places contemporary reforms in historical context and systematically explores how state electoral institutions have been instrumental in shaping voting behavior throughout the twentieth century. Although reformers often assume that more convenient voting procedures will produce equivalent effects wherever they are implemented, Springer reveals that this is not the case. In fact, convenience-voting methods have had almost no effect in the southern states where turnout rates are lowest. In contrast, the adverse effects associated with restrictive institutions like poll taxes and literacy tests have been persistent and dramatic. Ultimately, Springer argues, no single institutional fix will uniformly resolve problems of low or unequal participation. If we want to reliably increase national voter turnout rates, we must explore how states’ voting histories differ and better understand the role of political and geographical context in shaping institutional effects.
Eight of the last twelve presidents were millionaires when they took office. Millionaires have a majority on the Supreme Court, and they also make up majorities in Congress, where a background in business or law is the norm and the average member has spent less than two percent of his or her adult life in a working-class job. Why is it that most politicians in America are so much better off than the people who elect them— and does the social class divide between citizens and their representatives matter?
With White-Collar Government, Nicholas Carnes answers this question with a resounding—and disturbing—yes. Legislators’ socioeconomic backgrounds, he shows, have a profound impact on both how they view the issues and the choices they make in office. Scant representation from among the working class almost guarantees that the policymaking process will be skewed toward outcomes that favor the upper class. It matters that the wealthiest Americans set the tax rates for the wealthy, that white-collar professionals choose the minimum wage for blue-collar workers, and that people who have always had health insurance decide whether or not to help those without. And while there is no one cause for this crisis of representation, Carnes shows that the problem does not stem from a lack of qualified candidates from among the working class. The solution, he argues, must involve a variety of changes, from the equalization of campaign funding to a shift in the types of candidates the parties support.
If we want a government for the people, we have to start working toward a government that is truly by the people. White-Collar Government challenges long-held notions about the causes of political inequality in the United States and speaks to enduring questions about representation and political accountability.
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