Political Science: The State of the Discipline II

By Ada W. Finifter | Go to book overview

their high re-election rates testify to the success of this strategy. However, this structure may well produce poor public policy ( Mezey 1986). This poor performance, combined with the isolated scandals about individual members that tend to attract a disproportionate amount of press attention, creates a public impression that the Congress is performing poorly. Members themselves contribute to this perception by deflecting public criticism of themselves toward the Congress, in effect running against Congress ( Fenno 1978). However, recent research by Richard Born ( 1990), using National Election Study data over a number of years, suggests that evaluations of the Congress are strong predictors of how constituents feel about their own member and therefore attempts by members to distance themselves from the institution may be futile.

This approach relies on what Easton ( 1965) referred to as specific support -- support based on performance. Wahlke ( 1971) argues that because citizens tend to know very little about what their political leaders are doing, measures of specific support are not as important as measures of support that are unrelated to performance. Such diffuse support is measured by support for the continued existence and powers of the legislature rather than by favorable evaluations of what the legislature is doing. Over the long term, specific and diffuse support are connected. Boynton and Loewenberg ( 1974) found, for example, that diffuse support for the German Bundestag increased as a result of the economic successes of the post-war government. And a more recent analysis suggests that perceptions of poorer government performance have led to a decline in trust for the Bundestag ( Saalfeld 1990).

In Korea, Turkey, and Kenya, it is found that among more modernized sectors of these societies constituent satisfaction with the performance of the legislature is connected with diffuse support for the legislative institution, and satisfaction with the performance of individual legislators has little impact on diffuse support ( Kim et al. 1984). Similarly, in Sweden a relatively high level of support for the parliament as an institution along with an increasing cynicism about its members has been noted (After 1990).

The Development of Legislatures

A legislature's status in its political system may vary. That is, the prominence of a legislature and the degree to which it is supported by the public may change over time. Drawing on the political development literature in general and on Huntington ( 1965) specifically, Polsby ( 1968) used the concept of institutionalization to describe the process by which the House of Representatives became more complex, autonomous, coherent, adaptive, and universal. In so doing, he argued, the House increased its power and prominence in the political system and became a stable body in the sense that its status relative to other political institutions did not change substantially with changes in membership or in its political environment.

The theme of institutionalization has since been pursued by Gerlich ( 1973) in a discussion of several European parliaments, by Opello ( 1986) in a case study of Portugal's Parliament, and by Hibbing ( 1988) in an analysis of the British House of Commons. Hibbing replicates Polsby's categories and finds only spotty evidence of the institutionalization of that body. This finding leads him to question the assumption that the institutionalization process is unidirectional and monotonic, and he concludes that much depends on which indicators one selects and which time period one is examining. He also agrees with Cooper and Brady ( 1981a) view that institutionalization is more descriptive than explanatory in the sense that it leaves open the question of what external factors explain the particular facets of institutionalization.

Explaining change is of course more difficult than describing change. Fred Riggs ( 1975) emphasizes the connection between the conditions under which a nation's legislature first emerged and its current status in the political system, while Sisson and Snowiss ( 1979) discuss the importance of a supportive ideology involving constitutionalism and individual rights in the creation and maintenance of strong legislative institutions.

Organization theory, with its focus on the relationship between organizations and their environments, offers perhaps the strongest potential theoretical approach to understanding legislative change (see Cooper 1977; Hedlund 1985), although as Hibbing ( 1988, 710) notes, "no one has undertaken the work of empirically relating measures of environmental change to indicators of legislative change."

Conclusions: Behavior, Institutions, and Theory

Purposive Politicians

The reigning perspective for those who study the United States Congress centers on the constituency and electoral concerns of individual members and the impact of those concerns on their behavior and on the structure, performance, and status of the institution. Although the importance of constituency factors cannot be denied, there does remain the strong sense that electoral concerns explain only part of what legislators do. Fenno's view that legislators are driven by policy and power goals as


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Political Science: The State of the Discipline II
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Table of Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Theory and Method 1
  • 1: Texts and Canons: The Status of the "Great Books" in Political Theory 3
  • Conclusion 21
  • Notes 22
  • Bibliography 23
  • 2: Political Theory in the 1980s: Perplexity Amidst Diversity 27
  • Notes 43
  • Bibliography 43
  • Additional Bibliography 46
  • 3: Feminist Challenges to Political Science 55
  • Notes 72
  • Bibliography 73
  • 4: Formal Rational Choice Theory: A Cumulative Science of Politics 77
  • Concluding Comments 97
  • Notes 98
  • Bibliography 101
  • 5: The Comparative Method 105
  • Conclusion 116
  • Notes 117
  • Bibliography 117
  • 6: The State of Quantitative Political Methodology 121
  • Conclusion 148
  • Notes 148
  • Bibliography 150
  • Political Processes and Individual Political Behavior 161
  • 7: Comparative Political Parties: Research and Theory 163
  • Conclusion 183
  • Notes 184
  • Bibliography 185
  • 8: The Not So Simple Act of Voting 193
  • Notes 213
  • Bibliography 214
  • 9: The New Look in Public Opinion Research 219
  • Notes 240
  • Bibliography 240
  • 10: Expanding Disciplinary Boundaries 247
  • Conclusion 269
  • Notes 271
  • Bibliography 271
  • 11: Citizens, Contexts, and Politics 281
  • Conclusion: Putting the Puzzle Back Together 299
  • Bibliography 300
  • 12: Political Communication 305
  • Conclusions 323
  • Bibliography 324
  • Political Institutions of the State 333
  • 13: Legislatures: Individual Purpose and Institutional Performance 335
  • Conclusions: Behavior, Institutions, and Theory 354
  • Notes 357
  • Bibliography 357
  • 14: Public Law and Judicial Politics 365
  • 15: Political Executives and Their Officials 383
  • Conclusion 402
  • Bibliography 403
  • 16: Public Administration: The State of the Field 407
  • Notes 423
  • Bibliography 424
  • Nations and Their Relationships 429
  • 17: Comparative Politics 431
  • Conclusion 443
  • Notes 444
  • Bibliography 446
  • 18: Global Political Economy 451
  • Conclusion 474
  • Notes 476
  • Bibliography 477
  • Conclusions 483
  • Conclusions 503
  • Notes 504
  • Bibliography 505
  • Appendix 511
  • Contributors 513
  • Index of Cited Authors 517


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