Broken Contract? Changing Relationships between Americans and Their Government

By Stephen C. Craig | Go to book overview

12
The Electoral Connection:
Images of U.S. Senators
and Representatives

GLENN R. PARKER

CHARLES J. BARRILLEAUX

A basic premise in most models of elite behavior is that politicians manipulate their images for electoral gain. They do so by engaging in certain electorally rewarding behaviors and projecting images that are popular with voters. Legislators seem to fit this caricature quite well; hence, legislators are often characterized as behaving in ways designed to elicit voter approval and support among their constituents ( Mayhew 1974; Fiorina 1977; Fenno 1978). These behaviors presumably affect how voters perceive legislators, and if the images are successfully packaged and promoted, such perceptions should generate electoral support. The model implied by this characterization can be simply described as follows:

Incumbent's
Constituency Behavior → Voter Perceptions → Electoral Support

This proposition linking legislator behavior to electorally rewarding voter perceptions has become so commonplace that we are often quick to attribute electoral relevance to a legislator's every behavior and to search for electoral motives behind every action.

Yet despite the acknowledged pervasiveness of the electoral incentive, institutional differences between the Senate and the House of Representatives -- such as length of term and the distribution of power -- can create differences in constituency behavior that result from the personal sacrifices associated with the pursuit of reelection; these sacrifices fall unevenly upon those serving in the individual chambers. For instance, if Senate incumbents have to share power with fewer competitors than representatives, senators have more to lose by spending their time hunting for votes back in their constituencies. The purpose of this inquiry is to examine the impact of institutional differences between the House and Senate on the images of legislators, and to do so by analyzing (1) voters' perceptions of

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