The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections

The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections

The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections

The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections

Synopsis

"An intriguing phenomenon in American electoral politics is the loss of seats by the president's party in midterm congressional elections. Between 1862 and 1990, the president's party lost seats in the House of Representatives in 32 of the 33 midterm elections. In his new study, James Campbell examines explanations for these midterm losses and explores how presidential elections influence congressional elections. After reviewing the two major theories of midterm electoral change - the "surge and decline" theory and the theory of midterms as referenda on presidential performance - Campbell draws upon each to propose and test a new theory. He asserts that in the years of presidential elections congressmen ride presidential coattails into office, while in midterm elections such candidates are stranded. An additional factor is the strength of the presidential vote, which influences the number of seats that are won, only to be lost later. Finally, Cambell examines how the presidential pulse may affect electoral accountability, the relationship between Congress and the president, and the relative strength of Congress, the president, and political parties. He explores the implications of the presidential pulse for understanding electoral change, evaluating the American voter's competence, and assessing the importance of split-ticket voting. Including both election returns and survey data, this work offers a fresh perspective on congressional elections, voting behavior, Congress, and the presidency." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This book is about congressional elections and the systematic differences between congressional elections that are held in presidential-election years and those held in off-years, or at the midterms of presidencies. Although focused on the systematic regularities in congressional elections, the book was motivated by two seemingly anomalous elections: the 1982 and 1994 elections. the genesis of this book was the 1982 midterm congressional election, in which the Republican Party lost twenty-six seats in the House of Representatives. Using statistical models grounded in a theory of midterm elections that views the midterm vote as a referendum on the incumbent president, several political scientists made predictions about the 1982 election. in reviewing these predictions after the election, Evans Witt ( 1983) concluded that the models had performed quite poorly, forecasting Republicans to lose forty to forty-five seats. the natural question was why these predictions had been so far off target. Was 1982 an aberration, the result of greater insulation for incumbents, or was something systematically wrong with the models used to generate these failed predictions?

The 1982 prediction errors caused me to reconsider an older theory of congressional elections, the theory of surge and decline. Originally formulated by Angus Campbell in 1960, this theory offers a clear alternative to the referenda perspective. Unlike the referenda theory, surge and decline explains midterm results as a repercussion of the prior presidential election. It offers a fairly well articulated theory of how microlevel voter behavior, in turnout and vote choice, causes a pattern of macrolevel election results. Because of the development and early success of the referenda model and because findings at the individual voter level contradicted the theory, surge and decline had fallen from the ranks of conventional wisdom by the early 1970s. However, in surveying the literature, aside from a few individual-level studies, I found that there was surprisingly little empirical work on which to evaluate the theory one way or the other.

The referenda model's problems with the 1982 midterm and the gap in the literature on surge and decline at the macrolevel persuaded me that the dismissal of surge and decline was at the very least premature and that it deserved a thorough reconsideration. This book reports that reconsideration, a reconsideration of the theory's premises, its relationship with other theories of congressional elections, and the available evidence at the . . .

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