Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Our State's Never Had Better Friends: Resource Allocation, Home Styles, and Dual Representation in the Senate

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Our State's Never Had Better Friends: Resource Allocation, Home Styles, and Dual Representation in the Senate

Article excerpt


We demonstrate that senators use office allowances to create positive constituent service and policy expert impressions among voters, but the effects depend on the representational expectations of constituents and the nature of dual representation. Whether a senator shares the same party and represents a densely populated state in part determines the effectiveness of constituent service activities and efforts to establish policy expertise. The representational challenge faced by senators is more complicated than those faced by House members and more nuanced than the existing literature suggests. We conclude by examining the different challenges senators and representatives face in building representational relationships.


Senate, franking, travel, congressional staff, home styles, dual representation, office allowances, constituent impressions


Much of what we know about representation in the United States comes from studies of the House of Representatives, but the nature of representation in the Senate is starkly different.1 Senators represent entire states, which in addition to having larger populations than most congressional districts, are often more hetero- geneous on measures of race, income, and economic development. Binder, Malzman, and Sigelman (1998) find senators from less-populous states are more popular than senators from more populous states and Lee and Oppenheimer (1999) find that constituents are more likely to contact their senators and seek assistance from them in more lightly populated states. An oft-neglected difference affecting representation is the fact that each state receives two senators. Schiller (2000) argues that this dual representation has important consequences and rather than senators behaving identically, the system of dual representation provides incentives for senators to diverge in their legislative activities. We build on this line of work by exploring how the interaction between each of the senators in allocating their official office resources influences the perceptions of the constituents they repre- sent. These interactions are critical because constituents do not evaluate each senator in isolation, so the represen- tational choices of each senator are affected by whether their constituents view them as policy experts or con- stituent servants.

Using data from the Pooled Senate Election Study, we examine how constituents in each state view the activities of their senators and integrate that data with the represen- tational choices that senators make. Each senator receives an official office allowance enabling them to fulfill their representational responsibilities. Our findings paint a pic- ture of representation in the Senate that is more complex than what occurs in the House of Representatives. The critical point is that while senators have flexibility in deciding how to represent their constituents, state size and dual representation complicate these relationships and make certain representational choices more advantageous. Dual representation encourages cooperation among shared partisan delegations, particularly where constituent service activities are concerned in less densely populated states. Population density does not affect constituent impressions concerning a senator's policy expertise, while serving in a split partisan delegation suggests the benefits of creating an independent legislative portfolio. In order to tell the complete story of Senate representation, the interaction between each pair of senators must be taken seriously.

Building Relationships with Constituencies

Richard Fenno (1978) argues that constituencies are central to reelection for senators and representatives. From constituencies, members assemble support by allo- cating personal and staff resources, presenting their "self" to others, and explaining Washington activities. The allocation of personal and staff resources involves decisions about how frequently members travel home, how members deploy congressional staffers, and how much franked mail to send. …

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