David Mayhew - Congress The Electoral Connection (1)

David Mayhew - Congress The Electoral Connection (1) - 154...

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Unformatted text preview: 154 I United States v. Windsor (2013) and Scalia’s Dissent moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is to the Congress's hateful moral judgment against it. I promise you this: The only thing that will “con- fine" the Court's holding is its sense of what it can get away with. In sum, that Court which finds it so horrific that Congress irrationally and hatefully robbed same—sex couples of the "personhood and dignity" which state legislatures conferred upon them, will of a certitude be similarly appalled by state legislatures' irrational and hateful failure to acknowledge that ”per- sonhood and dignity" in the first place, ante, at 26. As far as this Court is con- cerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe. By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restrict- ing marriage to its traditional definition. Henceforth, those challengers will lead with this Court’s declaration that there is "no legitimate purpose" served by such a law, and will claim that the traditional definition has “the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure" the "personhood and dignity" of same- sex couples, see ante, at 25, 26. The majority's limiting assurance will be mean- ingless in the face of language like that, as the majority well knows. That is why the language is there. The result will be a judicial distortion of our soci- ety's debate over marriage—a debate that can seem in need of our clumsy "help" only to a member of this institution. As to that debate: Few public controversies touch an institution so central to the lives of so many, and few inspire such attendant passion by good people on all sides. Few public controversies will ever demonstrate so vividly the beauty of what our Framers gave us, a gift the Court pawns today to buy its stolen moment in the spotlight: a system of government that permits us to rule our- selves. Since DOMA's passage, citizens on all sides of the question have seen victories and they have seen defeats. There have been plebiscites, legislation, persuasion, and loud voices—in other words, democracy. In the majority's tell- ing, this story is black-and—white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us. . has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the We owed both of them better. I dissent. I respectfully dissent. peace that comes from a fair defeat. CONGRESS 5.1 DAVID R. MAYH EW From Congress: The Electoral Connection In this classic work on Congress, Mayhew asks, what would Congress look like, and how would members of Congress behave, if members were solely interested in one thing: getting reelected? Mayhew says they would posture and preen, but also occasionally produce valuable legislation. In other words, it would look like the Congress we actually observe in the United States. Mostly through personal experience on Capitol Hill, I have become convinced that scrutiny of purposive behavior offers the best route to an understanding of legislatures—or at least of the United States Congress. In the fashion of economics, I shall make a simple abstract assumption about human motiva- tion and then speculate about the consequences of behavior based on that motivation. Specifically, I shall conjure up a vision of United States congress- men as single~minded seekers of reelection, see what kinds of activity that goal implies, and then speculate about how congressmen so motivated are likely to go about building and sustaining legislative institutions and making policy. At all points I shall try to match the abstract with the factual. I find an emphasis on the reelection goal attractive for a number of reasons. First, I think it fits political reality rather well. Second, it puts the spotlight directly on men rather than on parties and pressure groups, which in the past have often entered discussions of American politics as analytic phantoms. me David R. Mayhew, Congress: The Electoral Connection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974). 155 156 I DAVID R. MAYHEW Third, I think politics is best studied as a struggle among men to gain and maintain power and the consequences of that struggle. Fourth—and perhaps most important—the reelection quest establishes an accountability relationship with an electorate, and any serious thinking about democratic theory has to give a central place to the question of accountability. The abstract assumption notwithstanding, I regard this venture as an exercise in political science rather than economics. Leaving aside the fact that I have no economics expertise to display, I find that economists who study legislatures bring to bear interests different from those of political scientists. Not surprisingly the public finance scholars tend to look upon government as a device for spending money. I shall give some attention to spending, but also to other governmental activities such as the production of binding rules. And I shall touch upon such traditional subjects of political science as elections, parties, governmental structure, and regime stability. Another distinction here is that economics research tends to be infused with the normative assumption that policy decisions should be judged by how well they meet the Standard of Pareto optimality. This is an assumption that I do not share and that I do not think most political scientists share. There will be no need here to set forth any alternative assumption. . . . My subject of concern here is a single legislative institution, the United States Congress. In many ways, of course, the Congress is a unique or unusual body. It is probably the most highly “professionalized” of legislatures, in the sense that it promotes careerism among its members and gives them the salaries, staff, and other resources to sustain careers. Its parties are exceptionally diffuse. It is widely thought to be especially "strong” among legislatures as a checker of executive power. Like most Latin American legislatures but unlike most Euro— pean ones, it labors in the shadow of a separately elected executive. My decision to focus on the Congress flows from a belief that there is something to be gained in an intensive analysis of a particular and important institution. But there is something general to be gained as well, for the exceptionalist argument should not be carried too far. In a good many ways the Congress is just one in a large family of legislative bodies. I shall find it useful at various points in the analysis to invoke comparisons with European parliaments and with American state legislatures and city councils. I shall ponder the question of what “functions" the Congress performs or is capable of performing—a question that can be answered only with the records of other legislatures in mind. Functions to be given special attention are those of legislating, overseeing the executive, express— ing public opinion, and servicing constituents. No functional capabilities can be automatically assumed.l Indeed the very term legislature is an unfortu- nate one because it confuses structure and function. Accordingly I shall here on use the more awkward but more neutral term representative assembly to refer to members of the class of entities inhabited by the United States House and Sen- ate. Whatever the noun, the identifying characteristics of institutions in the class have been well stated by Loewenberg: it is true of all such entities that (1) the1r members are formally equal to each other in status, distinguishing par— llaments from hierarchically ordered organizations," and (2) “the authority of From Congress I 157 their members depends on their claim to representing the rest of the commu— nity, in some sense of that protean concept, representation."2 The following discussion will take the form of an extended theoretical essay. Perforce it will raise more questions than it answers. As is the custom in mono-causal ventures, it will no doubt carry arguments to the point of exag- geration; finally, of course, I shall be satisfied to explain a significant part of the variance rather than all of it. What the discussion will yield, I hope, is a picture of what the United States Congress looks like if the reelection quest is examined seriously. The ultimate concern here is not how probable it is that legislators will lose their seats but whether there is a connection between what they do in office and their need to be reelected. It is possible to conceive of an assembly in which no member ever comes close to losing a seat but in which the need to be reelected is what inspires members’ behavior. It would be an assembly with no saints or fools in it, an assembly packed with skilled politicians going about their business. When we say ”Congressman Smith is unbeatable," we do not mean that there is nothing he could do that would lose him his seat. Rather we mean, ”Congressman Smith is unbeatable as long as he continues to do the things he is doing." If he stopped answering his mail, or stopped visiting his district, or began voting randomly on roll calls, or shifted his vote record eighty points on the ADA scale, he would bring on primary or November election troubles in a hurry. It is difficult to offer conclusive proof that this last state— ment is true, for there is no congressman willing to make the experiment. But normal political activity among politicians with healthy electoral margins should not be confused with inactivity. What characterizes “safe" congress— men is not that they are beyond electoral reach, but that their efforts are very likely to bring them uninterrupted electoral success. Whether congressmen think their activities have electoral impact, and whether in fact they have impact, are of course two separate questions. Of the former there can be little doubt that the answer is yes. In fact in their own minds successful politicians probably overestimate the impact they are having. Kingdon found in his Wisconsin candidates a "congratulation— rationalization effect," a tendency for winners to take personal credit for their victories and for losers to assign their losses to forces beyond their control. The actual impact of politicians' activities is more difficult to assess. The evidence on the point is soft and scattered. It is hard to find variance in activities under- taken, for there are no politicians who consciously try to lose. There is no doubt that the electorate’s general awareness of what is going on in Congress is something less than robust. Yet the argument here will be that congress— men’s activities in fact do have electoral impact. Pieces of evidence will be brOught in as the discussion proceeds. The next step here is to offer a brief conceptual treatment of the relation between congressmen and their electorates. In the Downsian analysis what 158 I DAVID R. MAYHEW national party leaders must worry about is voters’ "expected party differential.” But to congressmen this is in practice irrelevant, for reasons specified earlier. A congressman’s attention must rather be devoted to what can be called an "expected incumbent differential." Let us define this "expected incumbent dif- ferential" as any difference perceived by a relevant political actor between what an incumbent congressman is likely to do if returned to office and what any possible challenger (in primary or general election) would be likely to do. And let us define "relevant political actor" here as anyone who has a resource that might be used in the election in question. At the ballot box the only usable resources are votes, but there are resources that can be translated into votes: money, the ability to make persuasive endorsements, organizational skills, and so on. By this definition a “relevant political actor" need not be a constituent; one of the most important resources, money, gressional campaign years. It must be emphasized that the average voter has only the haziest awareness of what an incumbent congressman is actually doing in Office. But an incum- bent has to be concerned about actors who do form impressions about him, and especially about actors who can marshal resources other than their own votes. Senator Robert C. Byrd (D., W.Va.) has a “little list” of 2,545 West Virgin- flows all over the country in con- ians he regularly keeps in touch with. A congressman's a From Congress I 159 Chicago Democratic politicians seek the endorsement of the mayor. In the San Francisco area and elsewhere House candidates try to score points by win— ning endorsements from officials of the opposite party. As Neustadt argues, the influence of the president over congressmen (of both parties) varies with his public prestige and with his perceived ability to punish and reward. One presidential tool is the endorsement, which can be carefully calibrated accord- ing to level of fervor, and which can be given to congressmen or to challengers running against congressmen. In the 1970 election Senator Charles Goodell (R., N.Y.), who had achieved public salience by attacking the Nixon admin— istration, was apparently done in by the resources called forth by that attack; the vice president implicitly endorsed his Conservative opponent, and the administration acted to channel normally Republican money away from Goodell. What a congressman has to try to do is to insure that in primary and general elections the resource balance (with all other deployed resources finally trans- lated into votes) favors himself rather than somebody else. To maneuver suc— cessfully he must remain constantly aware of what political actors’ incumbent differential readings are, and he must act in a fashion to inspire readings that favor himself. Complicating his task is the problem of slack resources. That is, only a very small proportion of the resources (other than votes) that are con- ceivably deployable in congressional campaigns are ever in fact deployed. But there is no sure way of telling who will suddenly become aroused and with what consequence. For example, just after the 1948 election the American Medical Association, unnerved by the medical program of the Attlee Gov- ernment in Britain and by Democratic campaign promises here to institute national health insurance, decided to venture into politics. By 1950 congress- men on record as supporters of health insurance found themselves confronted by a million-dollar AMA advertising drive, local "healing arts committees” making candidate endorsements, and even doctors sending out campaign lit- erature with their monthly bills. By 1952 it was widely believed that the AMA had decided some elections, and few congressmen were still mentioning health insurance. In all his calculations the congressman must keep in mind that he is serv- ing two electorates rather than one—a November electorate and a primary electorate nested inside it but not a representative sample of it. From the standpoint of the politician a primary is just another election to be survived. A typical scientific poll of a constituency yields a congressman information on the public standing of possible challengers in the other party but also in his own party. A threat is a threat. For an incumbent with a firm ”supporting coalition” of elite groups in his party the primary electorate is normally quies- cent. But there can be sudden turbulence. And it sometimes happens that the median views of primary and November electorates are so divergent on salient issues that a congressman finds it difficult to hold both electorates at once. This has been a recurrent problem among California Republicans. 160 I DAVID R. MAYHEW A final conceptual point has to do with whether congressmen’s behavior should be characterized as “maximizing" behavior. Does it make sense to visu- alize the congressman as a maximizer of vote percentage in elections— November or primary or, with some complex trade—off, both? For two reasons the answer is probably no. The first has to do with his goal itself. which is to stay in office rather than to win all the popular vote. More precisely his goal is to stay in office over a number of future elections, which does mean that “win- ning comfortably" in any one of them (except the last) is more desirable than winning by a narrow plurality. The logic here is that a narrow victory (in pri- mary or general election) is a sign of weakness that can inspire hostile political actors to deploy resources intensively the next time around. By this reasoning the higher the election percentages the better. No doubt any congressman would engage in an act to raise his November figure from 80 percent to 90 per- cent if he could be absolutely sure that the act would accomplish the end (with- out affecting his primary percentage) and if it could be undertaken at low personal cost. But still, trying to "win comfortably" is not the same as trying to win all the popular vote. As the personal cost (e.g. expenditure of personal energy) of a hypothetical “sure gain" rises, the congressman at the 55 percent November level is more likely to be willing to pay it than his colleague at the 80 percent level. Whether they are safe or marginal, cautious or audacious, congressmen must constantly engage in activities related to reelection. There will be dif- g their terms. The next step here t list of the kinds of activities congressmen find it electorally useful to engage in. The case will be that there are three basic kinds of activities. . . . the electorate, if asked, can supply their Hous a congressman to be known. “ valence; to be perceived at all is enjoyed by House incumbents i 8 members’ names. It helps In the main, recognition carries a positive to be Perceived favorably." A vital advantage 8 that they are much better known among lengers. They are better known because they y, and money ttying to make themselves bet- From Congress I 161 lets and letters of condolence and congratulation. Of 158 House members questioned in the mid-19605, 121 said that they regularly sent newsletters to their constituents; 48 wrote separate news or opinion columns for newspa— pers; 82 regularly reported to their constituencies by radio or television; 89 regularly sent out mail questionnaires. Some routines are less standard. Con— gressman George E. Shipley (D., Ill.) claims to have met personally about half his constituents (i.e. some 200,000 people). For over twenty years Congress- man Charles C. Diggs, Jr. (D., Mich.) has run a radio program featuring him- self as a “combination disc jockey-commentator and minister." Congressman Daniel J. Flood (D., Pa.) is "famous for appearing unannounced and often uninvited at wedding anniversaries and other events." Anniversaries and other events aside, congressional advertising is done largely at public expense. Use of the franking privilege has mushroomed in recent years; in early 1973 one estimate predicted that House and Senate members would send out about 476 million pieces of mail in the year 1974, at a public cost of $38.1 million—or about 900,000 pieces per member with a subsidy of $70,000 per member. By far the heaviest mailroom traffic comes in Octobers of even-numbered years. There are some differences between House and Senate members in the ways they go about getting their names across. House members are free to blanket their constituencies with mailings for all boxholders; senators are not. But senators find it easier to appear on national television—for example, in short reaction statements on the nightly news shows. Advertising is a staple congres— sional activity, and there is no end to it. For each member there are always new voters to be apprised of his worthiness and old voters to be reminded of it. A second activity may be called credit claiming,...
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