Congressional Careers: Contours of Life in the U.S. House of Representatives

Congressional Careers: Contours of Life in the U.S. House of Representatives

Congressional Careers: Contours of Life in the U.S. House of Representatives

Congressional Careers: Contours of Life in the U.S. House of Representatives


According to a Gallup poll, 70 percent of Americans want elected officials to serve only a limited number of terms. Nevertheless, every two years American voters return, on average, more than 95 percent of incumbents to the U. S. House of Representatives. John Hibbing's book provides unique evidence of the problems that would result from congressional term limitations.

The first scholar to analyze congressional careers using longitudinal data, Hibbing looks at how the career patterns of a typical House member have evolved over the last forty years. By showing that the gap between the legislative contributions of junior and senior members has grown in recent years, Hibbing contends that as members gain in seniority they become more knowledgeable, efficient, and valuable legislators. Thus he argues against congressional term limitations.

Hibbing's findings illuminate other fundamental and surprising changes. House members now are as electorally secure early in their careers as they are late, and they are less likely to deviate from their previously established roll call voting pattern. Members acquire positions of authority (subcommittee chairs) more quickly than they used to, but these more rapid gains evaporate by the sixth or seventh term of service. Also, House members travel to their home districts less frequently than they did ten years ago.

Congressional Careers is a fascinating portrait of the evolution of American legislators during their congressional service. It is the only study of congressional behavior that is both comprehensive and longitudinal- valuable features in an era when congressional careerism is coming under acute public scrutiny.


I have a knack. It is not a very good knack for a social scientist to have, and I try my best not to pass it on to any students with whom I come into contact, but it is a knack nonetheless. I frequently involve myself in research projects requiring prodigious amounts of data collection. Once the study for which the data were originally collected is completed, I move on to other things, apparently content to know these mounds of data are resting securely in my file cabinets and on my computer discs. As many of my graduate students will attest, I am among the world's least efficient data collectors. For example, in this manuscript, as was the case with my only other book-length effort to date, large and distinct data sets were required for each substantive chapter.

The reason I mention all this is that, as a result of the data requirements of this project, I have an unusual number of people and organizations whose assistance I want to recognize publicly. First, there are those who provided financial assistance. The University of Nebraska Foundation Fund for Research on the U.S. Congress has been an extremely valuable resource. I greatly appreciate the assistance of the anonymous benefactor of the fund and also the first executive director of the fund, Adam Breckenridge -- whose Kentucky family, I might add, knows something about careers in Congress. The Dirksen Congressional Center supplied financial assistance at the crucial nascent stages of the project, and I am deeply appreciative of the center's support. And the National Science Foundation provided the major source of funding for this effort in the form of grant number SES-8619518. My sincere thanks to NSF.

Most of the data were collected quite recently, but the foundation for the data set used in chapter 2 was laid during the summer of 1980 when John Alford and I should have been studying for our comprehensive examinations. Instead, we did something even more tedious -- we coded data on congressional elections (with an important assist from Sue Strickler). The fact that the data we coded that summer in Iowa City have been useful in more than one project is a clear indication I did not design that . . .

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