Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Contract with America and Conditional Party Government in State Legislatures

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

The Contract with America and Conditional Party Government in State Legislatures

Article excerpt

This study tests two theories of legislative leadership by comparing the power of majority-party leaders in states where the Republican Party adopted a state-level version of "The Contract with America" in 1994, with that of leaders in states where no contract was adopted. Using a nationwide survey of legislators to rank power, the study finds that the lower house leaders in contract states were stronger in 1995, as were those from states in which the public was ideologically polarized along partisan lines. The results provide support for conditional party government theory while expanding our knowledge of state legislative politics.

Keywords: legislative leadership; state legislatures; Contract with America; state politics; conditional party government; pivotal politics

How important of a role do party leaders play in legislative politics? This question is at the center of debate among different positive dieories of congressional behavior (Cox and McCubbins 2005; Shepsle and Weingast 1994; Smith 2000). Yet despite the extensive literature that has addressed this question over the past few decades, die importance of party leaders in legislative politics is far from conclusive. The purpose of this study is to improve our theoretical understanding of legislative leadership by offering a broader approach to testing Aldrich and Rohde's theory of conditional party government (CPG; Aldrich and Rohde 1997; Rohde 1991) and Krehbiel's theory of pivotal politics (Krehbiel 1991, 1998). The primary question this study addresses is whedier leaders are stronger when the preferences of the majority party are more homogenous and when they are distinct from the preferences of the minority party, as Aldrich and Rohde argue, or whether leadership is not significant in shaping outcomes, as Krehbiel maintains.

To test these competing theories, most congressional studies have focused on the impact of legislators' policy preferences on the power of party leaders and on policy outcomes. Frequently, these studies rely on roll-call votes to identify members' policy preferences to determine whether the conditions of CPX3 have been met. The researchers then explore how the presence of CPG shapes the power delegated to party leaders (Aldrich and Rohde 1997; Rohde 1991). Alternatively, some studies examine whether policy outcomes are determined solely by the members' policy preferences or if the party leaders have an independent effect (Aldrich and Rohde 1997; Krehbiel 1991, 1998).

This study deviates from these past approaches by examining leadership in state legislatures and by using a unique political event - the adoption of the Republican "Contract with the American People" to test these theories. Rather than relying on roll-call votes to determine legislators' policy preferences as is done in congressional studies, I categorized a state as having met the conditions of CPG depending on whether the Republican Party in the state adopted its own version of the "Republican Contract with the American People" in the 1994 election. In essence, I used the adoption of a state-level contract as an indicator as to whether there was intraparty homogeneity in party members' policy preferences and interparty polarization. I then compared die power of the legislative leaders in these states in the 1995 legislative session with the power of leaders in states in which the parties did not adopt such a contract.

By expanding the empirical focus to state legislatures and by using this alternative method to identify the conditions of CPG, this study offers a considerably different approach to testing these theories. The benefit of this approach is that the findings from the study should give us far greater confidence in the accuracy and generalizability of the theories. If the theories are correct, we would expect them to explain behavior in other legislatures beyond Congress and by using alternative forms of measurements. Of equal importance, the study allows us to improve our knowledge of state legislative politics. …

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