Parties and Party Leadership
October 26-28, 2010
Approaches to studying parties in Congress
Responsible party government
– policy commitments to the electorate: candidates run on a unified national platform.
– willingness and ability to implement promises (unified government is implied).
– strong opposition party to allow accountability when necessary.
– sufficient differences between the parties to provide meaningful choices.
Is the 1994 “Contract with America” an example? Is this possible given today’s candidate-centered politics?
Party cartels (Cox and McCubbins)
“Name brand” theory of parties – party members benefit from having a shared name brand. Parties help solve collective action problems by providing the basis for passing legislation (members would not be able to do it on their own).
Members delegate power to party leaders -- analogy to partners in a law firm or accounting firm. Partners set the agenda, coordinate the business side of things. Limits of the analogy?
Party cartel theory, cont.
Party cartels usurp the power to make rules governing the structure and process of legislation. There are two main consequences:
– the legislative process is stacked in favor of majority party interests (especially in terms of negative agenda power: keep things off the agenda that would split the party).
– because the majority party has all the structural advantages, the key players in most legislative deals are members of that party and the majority party's central agreements are facilitated by cartel rules and policed by the cartel's leadership.
Possible electoral consequences for the majority party?
Conditional party government
party polarization -- that is, homogeneity within the party and heterogeneity across parties (party conflict), is a necessary condition for strong leadership.
If party polarization holds, members are more willing to give power to party leaders; if parties are more internally divided, they will not.
Contrast recent Democratic leadership to the Democrats of the 1950s and 1960s. Blue dogs are nowhere near as powerful as the conservative coalition used to be.
Challenges to the party-centered view
Preference-based theory: the median voter is pivotal, or the filibuster pivot in the Senate (parties don’t add much to understanding congressional decision making). Also a veto pivot in the House and Senate.
However, there are preference-based spatial theories that do include parties. Downs: Parties “formulate policies to win elections rather than winning elections to promulgate policies.” Parties seek to win elections by sticking closely to the policy preferences of the median voter. However, this doesn’t mean that parties in the legislature don’t matter.
Bipartisanship: political tactic or moral principle? What does it really mean? Does it require compromise? Clinton and Bush models. Large support from both parties, or pick off a few extreme members? Obama was seeking the Clinton approach, but has been rebuffed by the Republicans. Chait, “The presence or absence of cooperation between parties tells us nothing about whether government is acting in the public interest.”
Tom DeLay response. Which approach does he come closest to?
Should Obama continue to try to work with congressional Republicans?
The two-party system
Historical evolution. Straight party ticket, party-centered elections. Progressive reforms (Australian ballot, primaries), candidate-centered elections.
Duverger’s law for elections and other institutional factors, such as the committee system, promote the two-party system. Makes it hard for third parties to get into office and then they have to caucus with one of the major parties if they want to have any power.
Are third parties possible? Desirable? Joe Lieberman, Bernie Sanders, a few others, but not a real party.
Party leaders in the House and Senate
House – Speaker is the only Constitutionally mandated position. Extensive leadership system. Regional balance in the system – “Austin/Boston” connection. Extensive whip system: at-large and regional whips.
Senate – President pro tem and Vice President are mentioned in the Constitution, but are largely ceremonial. Leadership in the Senate like “herding cats.”
Middle-person hypothesis for congressional leaders. Recent evidence of extremism.
House leadership - Democrats
Majority Leader—Steny Hoyer
Majority Whip—James Clyburn
Caucus Chair— John Larson
House leadership – Republicans
Minority Leader – John Boehner
Minority Whip – Eric Cantor
Conference Chair – Mike Pence
Vice Chair –Cathy McMorris Rogers
Duties of parties leaders
organize the chamber – appoint task forces, oversee committee nominations.
schedule floor business
consult and negotiate with the president
spokespersons for the party (on national television news and talk shows)
campaigning and fundraising for party members
Measuring the strength of parties
Roll call vote measures
– Party Voting: at least 50% D v. 50% R.
– Index of cohesion--absolute difference between proportion voting yes and proportion voting no. 80/20. Score would be 60.
– Party unity--% of the party voting together on party votes. Can be an individual-level score, or aggregated for the party.
Distinguishing between party influence and preferences
– close and lopsided votes
– agenda control: only 4 cases in 30 years of a bill being reported from a committee without the support of the majority party.
Majority and minority party “roll rates” (who wins roll call votes, the majority party or minority party)? Studies of roll call voting showed that the majority party rarely gets rolled – this was seen as strong evidence of negative agenda power. However, recent work that focuses on all bills, not just those with votes, reaches different conclusion. 44 major pieces of legislation from 1937-1952 were opposed by the majority party.
Shift in policy direction with a change in party control: different expectations for preference-based and party-based theory. Problem of locating the status quo.
Steve Smith – “win rates” by party in House and Senate (at the individual-member level).
Setting the Agenda
– Negative power: party cartel theory argues that it is most important for leaders to prevent bills from coming to the floor that would divide the party. The “Hastert rule.”
– Positive power.
Shaping legislation: direct negotiation, multiple referral, omnibus legislation.
Influencing outcomes--persuasion, control of the Rules committee, suspension of the rules. Rayburn and insurance votes. “Black Thursday” and the prescription drug vote.
Limits of Leadership
Parties are not zero-sum institutions. Do not shut out the minority party. “Shadow of the future.” Fear that the minority party will become the majority party and treat you the same way you treated them.
No ultimate sanctions – can’t hire and fire members, the voters have that power. Therefore must operate through persuasion and incentives.
The minority party
Factionalism within the Republican party
– Traditional conservatives (Bob Michel, Hastert)
– New Conservatives (Gingrich/DeLay/Boehner)
– Moral Conservatives (Brownback, Hatch, etc.)
– Moderates (Snowe, Collins).
When the Democrats were in the minority, they had problems with factions as well:
– Traditional liberals (esp. the CBC and ADA)
– Blue Dog Democrats (DLC)
Differences in strategies and tactics: go along, compromise, try to make policy? Or try to become the majority party again?