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The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections

The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections

Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Elections
    Book Description:

    An intriguing phenomenon in American electoral politics is the loss of seats by the president's party in midterm congressional elections. Between 1862 and 1990, the president's party lost seats in the House of Representatives in 32 of the 33 midterm elections. In his new study, James Campbell examines explanations for these midterm losses and explores how presidential elections influence congressional elections.

    After reviewing the two major theories of midterm electoral change-the "surge and decline" theory and the theory of midterms as referenda on presidential performance Campbell draws upon each to propose and test a new theory. He asserts that in the years of presidential elections congressmen ride presidential coattails into office, while in midterm elections such candidates are stranded. An additional factor is the strength of the presidential vote, which influences the number of seats that are won, only to be lost later.

    Finally, Campbell examines how the presidential pulse may affect electoral accountability, the relationship between Congress and the president, and the relative strength of Congress, the president, and political parties. He explores the implications of the presidential pulse for understanding electoral change, evaluating the American voter'scompetence, and assessing the importance of split-ticket voting.

    Including both election returns and survey data,The Presidential Pulse of Congressional Electionsoffers a fresh perspective on congressional elections, voting behavior, Congress, and the presidency.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4903-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    This book is about congressional elections and the systematic differences between congressional elections that are held in presidential-election years and those held in off-years, or at the midterms of presidencies. Although focused on the systematic regularities in congressional elections, the book was motivated by two seemingly anomalous elections: the 1982 and 1994 elections. The genesis of this book was the 1982 midterm congressional election, in which the Republican Party lost twenty-six seats in the House of Representatives. Using statistical models grounded in a theory of midterm elections that views the midterm vote as a referendum on the incumbent president, several...

  6. Part 1. Theories of Midterm Elections

    • 1 The Midterm Question
      (pp. 7-21)

      The 1994 midterm congressional election was a political earthquake. The Democratic Party, which had controlled a majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives for forty consecutive years, two and a half times as long as any previous House majority, lost fifty-two seats and with them control of the House to the Republicans. It is an understatement to say that the results of the 1994 midterm election were unexpected. Journalists, pundits, and political forecasters were completely taken off guard by the extent of Democratic losses. No party had gained or lost more than thirty-five seats in a congressional election...

    • 2 The Premises of Surge and Decline
      (pp. 22-39)

      Like any theory, the theory of surge and decline is based upon certain premises. This chapter explores those premises, the foundation of surge and decline. I examine three elements of this foundation: the theory of how campaign information affects the vote choice; the premise that strong presidential short-term forces systematically favor the party winning the presidency; and the premise that support for the winning presidential candidate translates into support for his party’s congressional candidates.

      The theory of surge and decline is grounded to a large extent in a theory of political information. Accompanying surges and declines in turnout are surges...

    • 3 The Propositions and Evidence of Surge and Decline
      (pp. 40-66)

      Although carefully crafted and widely accepted, the theory of surge and decline for some time failed to generate much empirical investigation. As Albert Cover observes, “Campbell’s seminal article was not closely examined for over a decade after its original publication” (1985, 607). Even then, only parts of the theory were studied. The general lack of research into the theory is all the more remarkable given the relatively scant evidence offered in support of it by Campbell’s original article. Campbell examined evidence at only one level, that of the individual voter, and restricted that analysis to a single pair of on-year...

    • 4 The Theory of the Midterm Referendum
      (pp. 67-84)

      Referenda theories of midterm elections stand in sharp contrast to the theories centered on presidential elections. Rather than focusing on the circumstances of the presidential election, referenda theories attempt to explain midterm losses by examining conditions at the midterm itself. The results of midterm elections can be interpreted, from this perspective, as the voting public’s judgment of the current administration’s effectiveness on the job.

      Since its introduction in the mid-1970s the referenda theory has replaced the theory of surge and decline as the accepted wisdom regarding national forces in midterm elections. In reviewing the literature on congressional elections, Barbara Hinckley...

  7. Part 2. The Presidential Pulse

    • 5 The Revised Theory of Surge and Decline
      (pp. 87-115)

      In light of the analysis of part 1, Edward Tufte’s suspicion of what a complete explanation for the consistency of midterm losses might entail seems well worth pursuing. In what follows, I argue that Tufte was basically on the right track. A revised version of the theory of surge and decline provides a more complete explanation for both the consistency of and the variation in midterm seat losses and is also sustained by evidence of the composition and behavior of the presidential and midterm electorates.

      As the analysis and discussion in chapter 3 indicates, the original theory of surge and...

    • 6 Evidence from National Elections
      (pp. 116-142)

      Since the original purpose of the theory of surge and decline was to explain the national losses by the president’s party in midterm elections, an appropriate starting point in examining the revised theory is to determine how well it explains the pattern of national electoral change. There are three parts to this analysis of national evidence. The first part examines national evidence of the midterm decline. How well does the revised theory explain variation in both midterm seat and vote losses for the president’s party? The second part examines evidence of the surge in the prior presidential election. According to...

    • 7 Evidence in Congressional Districts
      (pp. 143-171)

      Surge and decline effects should be evident at the level of individual elections in congressional districts as well as at the nationally aggregated level. While aggregated data generally offer the benefit of reducing both measurement error and highly idiosyncratic variation (Kramer 1983), it is possible that inferences drawn from such data, such as predicted changes in the national distribution of votes and seats, may be erroneous. There is always the risk of drawing fallacious ecological inferences (Robinson 1950; Langbein and Lichtman 1978). Moreover, since the theory of surge and decline makes claims about national, district, and individual voter behavior, the...

    • 8 Evidence in the Electorate
      (pp. 172-188)

      The electoral pulse of surge and decline depends ultimately upon the behavior of voters and potential voters. Their actions create the swings in the interelection seat and vote distributions at the national level over time, as examined in chapter 6, and at the congressional-district level, as examined in chapter 7. At the root, any complete theory of midterm elections must draw the connection between individual voting behavior and the pattern of election results.

      The full case for an electoral theory includes demonstrating the validity of its claims about the voter as well as its claims about the aggregate results arising...

    • 9 Surge and Decline in Subpresidential Elections
      (pp. 189-206)

      The theory of surge and decline is a theory of interelection change. Although it was developed to explain swings in elections to the U.S. House of Representatives, the theory is not exclusively about electoral change in the House. It applies to elections for other offices as well. Any subpresidential election synchronized with and then held apart from presidential elections should be subject to surge and decline effects. To determine whether the theory remains valid beyond elections to the House, I now examine interelection change for two other offices, the lower chamber of state legislatures and the U.S. Senate.

      Voters generally...

    • 10 The Presidential Pulse in the 1990s
      (pp. 207-233)

      The 1994 midterm elections were momentous. They brought to a close the longest continuous majority in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives. Democrats had controlled the House for forty years, a tenure two and a half times as long as the longest previous majority. After winning seat majorities in an unprecedented twenty consecutive congressional elections, Democrats lost fifty-two seats and, with them, control of the House to the Republicans.

      With the possible exception of then–Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, no one expected Democrats to lose so many seats in 1994. The midterm results were more devastating to the...

    • 11 Reflections on the Presidential Pulse
      (pp. 234-257)

      The presidential pulse in support of congressional candidates of the president’s party has possible consequences for a variety of different issues in American politics. In the following sections I discuss the possible implications of the pulse or the cycle of surge and decline in six areas: the interpretations of electoral change, the utility of elections as instruments promoting popular government, the quality of the electorate, the potency of political parties, the roll-call behavior of legislators, and the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government. Finally, in light of the various probable effects of the presidential pulse, I examine...

  8. Appendix 1. Presidential Vote and House-Seat Regressions
    (pp. 258-259)
  9. Appendix 2. Robust Regression of National Evidence
    (pp. 260-263)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 264-295)
  11. References
    (pp. 296-310)
  12. Index
    (pp. 311-316)