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Parties as Procedural Coalitions in Congress: Evidence from a Natural Experiment (WP-03-08)

Jeffery A. Jenkins, Michael H. Crespin, and Jamie L. Carson

The authors examine the degree to which parties act as procedural coalitions in Congress by testing predictions from the party-cartel theory (Cox and McCubbins 1993, 1994, 2002), which suggests that party leaders (especially majority-party leaders) pressure party members to toe the line on votes that affect the legislative agenda in the House, with the promise of “carrots” for good behavior and the threat of “sticks” for bad behavior. They obtain leverage on the question of institutional party influence by focusing on a “natural experiment” involving the behavior of exiting House members. They argue that retiring House members are no longer susceptible to party pressure, making them the perfect source (when compared to higher-office seekers and re-election-seeking members) to determine the existence of party influence. Results from a pooled, cross-sectional analysis of the 94th through 105th Congresses (1975-98) suggest that party influence is indeed present in Congress, especially where the party-cartel theory predicts—on procedural, rather than final-passage, votes. Moreover, they find that procedural party influence is almost exclusively the domain of the majority party. This latter finding is especially important as most prior studies have been limited solely to investigating interparty influence. These results underscore the significant effect parties have on member behavior.

Jeffery A. Jenkins, Political Science and Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

Michael H. Crespin, Political Science, Michigan State University

Jamie L. Carson, Political Science, Florida International University

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