Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Logrolling in the U.S. Congress

Academic journal article Economic Inquiry

Logrolling in the U.S. Congress

Article excerpt


A long-standing question in political science is whether exchange occurs in legislatures, as it is expected in any economy where the intensity of demand varies. The issue was originally raised by Buchanan and Tullock [1962] and expanded by Coleman [1966] and Mueller [1967]. The subsequent literature has produced numerous models of vote trading (Haefele [1971], Riker and Brams [1973], Koford [1982a]). Much of the work suggests that vote trading leads to chaotic results (see, for example, Riker and Brams [1973], Kramer [1977], and McKelvey [1976]). Currently, vote trading's quantitative importance and optimality are unknown.

References to logrolling go back to the early literature in political science. Bentley [1907] refers to it, and since then scholars such as Mayhew [1966] and Ferejohn [1974] have provided primarily anecdotal evidence for logrolling. The economic analysis of logrolling has mostly been theoretical and little work has been done to assess the qualitative and quantitative importance of vote trading in legislatures. However, much might be learned from such analysis, given the apparent puzzle that for most roll-calls votes on parts of bills only a minority of districts stand to gain. Yet such proposals get passed.

Until recently vote trading has not been identified empirically. Stratmann [1992] is the only paper that identifies vote trades statistically, and it looks only at vote trades among agricultural interests. However, it would be interesting to know whether logrolling is prevalent in circumstances other than farm commodity programs. We need to identify logrolling coalitions to assess how widespread logrolling agreements are: we expect them to be common if the intensity of demand for legislation varies.

Related to the issue of vote trading is the question of what factors determine congressional voting behavior. Major elements in a legislator's voting decision are constituency interests, ideology, party, and (perhaps) vote trading. One segment of the literature on congressional voting has focused on the role of political parties as an important force determining a legislator's voting decision. Some authors have argued that parties provide an organizational framework within which logrolling will happen (see, for example, Fiorina [1974], Koford [1987], Weingast and Marshall [1988], Johnson and Stratmann [1992]). Alternatively, Lindsay and Maloney [1988] suggest that party discipline forces a legislator to vote for or against a piece of legislation. The latter view implies that on some issues party affiliation forces the legislator to vote against constituency interests.(1)

Whether party affiliation is a signal to constituencies of one's overall propensity to vote on bills, or a means to build coalitions, or whether both elements are important is an unresolved question. Voting along party lines can be due to party loyalty or party pressure, promoting the interests of one's constituency, or logrolling within the party. To answer questions about voting along party lines and about vote trading and coalitions within a quantitative framework, one has to distinguish empirically between party loyalty and logrolling coalitions that are organized within a party. Empirical studies have typically included a party dummy variable in regression equations. However, if logrolling coalitions are organized within a party, such a dummy variable will measure both potential party loyalty or potential party discipline and membership in a logrolling coalition. This paper uses a different approach to separate the logrolling variable from the party loyalty variable, and so distinguishes between voting for a proposal because of membership in a log-rolling coalition organized by a party, and because of potential party discipline.

This paper analyzes a broad range of votes where logrolling has been reported. The analysis spans two Congresses (1959 to 1962) and examines trades between interests favoring subsidies for city interests, labor interests, and farm interests. …

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