Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Party Loyalty and Legislative Success: Are Loyal Majority Party Members More Successful in the U.S. House of Representatives?

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Party Loyalty and Legislative Success: Are Loyal Majority Party Members More Successful in the U.S. House of Representatives?

Article excerpt

Majority Party leaders are hypothesized, through their control of the legislative schedule in the House of Representatives, to use legislative success as a selective incentive to encourage majority party members to contribute to the collective goals of the party. Members can demonstrate party loyalty through floor voting and financial contributions to the party's re-election efforts. This article examines legislative success from the 103rd through 107th Congresses. The evidence shows that both demonstrations of party loyalty have a significant effect on legislative success.

Keywords: party loyalty; legislative success; party government

In the 107th Congress, Joe Skeen (R-NM) and John Cooksey (R-LA) each sponsored four bills. By the end of the Congress, all of Skeen's bills had received a vote on the floor of the House while none of Cooksey's bills made it this far in the legislative process. Cooksey was not alone. One hundred and twenty-four other members failed to have even one bill make it to the floor for a vote. Of these, 25 were majority party members. Why are some members able to find this kind of legislative success while others are not? Recent work has shown that legislative success varies for a number of reasons. Some members hold institutional advantages, like membership in the majority party or germane committee assignments. Other members take advantage of the political context or use their own legislative skills to move legislation from one stage to the next

We argue that legislative success is also influenced by party leaders. Party leaders often face a choice between party members when deciding which bills will be selected as the legislative vehicles to proceed through the legislative labyrinth. This choice presents a strategic opportunity. Legislative success is important to members for various reasons, including making good public policy (Fenno 1973), demonstrating institutional power (Dodd 1977), claiming credit (Mayhew 1974), and attracting financial support from interest groups (Box-Steffensmeier and Grant 1999). As a result, majority party leaders can use legislative success as a reward. The puzzle is, how do party leaders decide which members should receive the benefits of legislative success? We suggest that party leaders distribute legislative success through bill scheduling by rewarding loyal party members.

In this article we examine the relationship between party loyalty and legislative success for majority party members. Our central hypothesis is that increased party loyalty causes greater legislative success, all else being equal. While members express loyalty to their party in many ways, scholars have only explored one expression of loyalty: floor voting. Recent work, however, has emphasized the growing importance of campaign contributions to party campaign committees and party candidates (Heberlig 2003). We, therefore, examine loyalty as demonstrated by majority party members through both floor voting in the U.S. House of Representatives and campaign contributions to the majority party's campaign committee and directly to its members. By including both forms of loyalty we capture loyalty among those members who, because of representational concerns, are unable to toe the party line in voting. By exploring two forms of party loyalty, we not only test the hypothesis that party loyalty matters to legislative success but we also examine the relative importance of these factors.

In this article, we are careful to limit ourselves to majority party members. This is because it is not clear who, in practice, determines which minority party members have success. The majority party ultimately controls the schedule but often defers to the minority party leadership when scheduling minority party bills. Thus, it is not clear if loyalty to the minority party or majority party is more important. This poses an interesting question that deserves attention but is beyond the scope of this article. …

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