Profile for Matthew P. Arsenault > Reviews

Browse

Matthew P. Arsen...'s Profile

Customer Reviews: 144
Top Reviewer Ranking: 378,324
Helpful Votes: 1353




Community Features
Review Discussion Boards
Top Reviewers

Guidelines: Learn more about the ins and outs of Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Matthew P. Arsenault RSS Feed (SW Michigan)
(REAL NAME)   

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-15
pixel
Legislating Together: The White House and Capitol Hill from Eisenhower to Reagan
Legislating Together: The White House and Capitol Hill from Eisenhower to Reagan
by Mark A. Peterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $31.00
48 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Move Away from the Presidency-Centered Perspective, December 7, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Peterson moves away from the "presidency-centered perspective" which contends that the president and Congress possess differing values and goals and are engaged in a zero-sum game. This approach argues that the president should be the legislative leaders. Peterson contends that such an approach is an incorrect representation of presidential-congressional relations. Rather, Peterson argues from a "tandem-institutions perspective" which suggests that both institutions function together to form a "legislative decision-making process." The institutional boundaries overlap and powers are shared. The institutions cannot act independently and as such, the "legislative decision-making process" is a quasi-institution in itself. As such, we can't look at each institution - in regards to legislating - as an independent entity. According to Peterson, in order to be successful, the president will have to form some kind of coalition with members of Congress in order for presidential initiatives to move forward.

Peterson contends that Congress reacts in one of five ways to presidential initiatives: (1) inaction, where no action is taken and the proposal dies in committee, (2) there can be a lack of consensus and both sides - the president v. Congress - attempt to dominate the bill. Usually one side dominates the other. When Congress dominates, the initiative is killed, (3) compromise can occur and adjustments are made to the proposal. Here the president may not get everything he wants, but the proposal passes. Lastly, (4) consensus can occur and the presidential initiative sails through. This is usually the case when the bill in nonpartisan or the opposition is disorganized, or doesn't care.

Peterson contends that there are four groups of variables which may shape the relationship between the president and congress, an ultimately affect the success of failure of the presidential initiative. The first fall under the "pure context," or those institutional aspects - and some changes to institutions - which are outside of presidential control, but affect the chances of implementation all the same. The first variable under the "pure
context" contends that congressional decentralization has made it increasingly difficult to form the coalitions necessary to successfully pass an initiative. A second variable stems from the increasing number of interest groups, which has made consensus formation more difficult. Additionally, these interest groups can have a greater influence on congressional committees and individual legislators which create more decentralization in the parties.

The next group of variables fall under the "malleable context" or those areas where the president has some, but unpredictable control. Here, we may look at issues like political capital, election cycles, and the state of the economy. The president can - to a point - influence these areas and they have an effect on congressional response to the initiatives. First, the temporal stage of the administration can have an effect. The president is most successful early in the term, not successful during election years, and when the president is a "lame duck." Second, Peterson contends that perceived mandates can improve the chances of success. The president can claim coattail effects. Jones (1994) would disagree. Third, the president is more likely to be successful the more his party holds seats. This seems tied with the "responsible parties" model. Fourth, the personal popularity may help; however, popularity isn't as important as unpopularity.

A second group of variables fall under the "malleable context" and have to do with economic conditions. When the economy is good, presidential proposals are more likely to garner support than when times are bad. When financial times are tough, we see less log rolling and subsequently increasing conflict between interests. Furthermore, since FDR, the president has been seen as responsible for the economy, and as such, when people are affected by GNP, deficits, unemployment, etc., they are likely to hold the president responsible.

The next broad groups of variables that have an impact on the president's success have to do with the "policy context." All policy initiatives are not the same. The context of the policy varies. As such, the ways that presidential policy varies affects how Congress perceives and acts on the proposal. The first variables have to do with the impact of the bill. Bills which make drastic changes to the status quo are likely to be controversial. Proposals with a smaller impact are likely to be less controversial and have greater consensus. The second variable examines the amount of effort exerted by the president. Lastly, the third variable addresses politics. By politics, Peterson - like Lowi (1964), and Ripley and Franklin (1991) - is referring to the fact that "the content of public policies, the methods by which a given policy is to be achieved, structures the method by which the political system responds to it" (177). That is, "The politics associated with each kind of policy reflects variations in the range of participants and the location of the resolution" (177).


The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies)
The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Second printing with new preface and appendix (Harvard Economic Studies)
by Mancur Olson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $25.50
78 used & new from $16.29

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic in Early Rational Choice, December 7, 2009
Olson takes issue with the idea - stemming from group theory - that groups of rational individuals will cooperate in pursuit of common interests because they would all be better off if the objective were achieved. Olson contends that instead, individuals will seek to maximize their own personal utility at the expense of the common interest unless there is (1) a coercive force making them cooperate, or (2) there is an individual incentive, beyond the common good, that provides individual benefits so that they contribute to the costs of achieving the collective good. The logic supporting this claim suggests that although members in a group have a common interest, they also have their personal interests. For example, a group of firms wants to keep prices high, while individual firms seek to maximize profit. In order to maximize profit, the individual firm must increase output. If all firms increase output, prices (the common good) will fall. This illustrates that the individual may act rationally in pursuit of his individual may act rationally in pursuit of his individual interests, but ultimately irrationally in pursuit of the common good.

This leads to a second major point, that is a discussion of the free-rider problem. Essentially, the free-rider occurs when the common good is non-excludable, that is, even those who don't contribute to the procurement of the good are not excluded from enjoying its benefits. It is rational for individual to not contribute. As the function of any group is to provide collective benefits, there must be some kind of coercive mechanism to ensure that everyone contributes. Here it may be helpful to think of state-tax policies. Without coercion, no one would contribute, and the group - here the state - would fail to function.

Only in some small groups are we likely to find the provision of some collective goods without coercion. This occurs for a number of reasons. First, a member or small group of members of the group may benefit so significantly from the provision of the collective good that they will bear the total burden of provision. Additionally, because the group is small, each member gets a larger portion of the good. Because there are fewer people, each gets a larger slice of the pie. Now, as groups get larger, the "slice" gets smaller per member. This leads to suboptimal outcomes, that is, the costs exceed the benefits. This is lessened under circumstances where the actor who contributes the most, receives the largest portion of the collective benefit while the smallest member gets the least. In short, Olson contends that smaller groups are better able to provide collective benefits while larger groups, are less able.

When discussing collective benefits and group membership, it is imperative to discuss the size and types of groups under investigation. First, Olson discusses exclusive versus inclusive groups. In the case of exclusive groups, there is a limited amount of collective good, and as such, members of the exclusive group want to maintain a minimum number of members so that each can attain a large portion of the collective good, we could think here of a small, oligopolistic groups. Exclusive groups are usually found in market situations. In non-market situations the collective good is not constrained by fixed supply. In these cases the more members to share the benefits and costs the better. So, the inclusive or exclusive nature of the organization largely depends on the issue at hand, that is the objective the group wishes to attain.

The degree of coordination also differs between inclusive and exclusive groups. In an inclusive group the organization will want as many individuals to participate as possible, but it is not necessary for every individual to participate. Because of the nature of the good, if one person "free-rides" it won't pose loses on those who do not cooperate. This is not the case for exclusive groups. Exclusive groups want smaller groups so each receives greater gains, but it is necessary for all these members to participate, otherwise, one person may defect and recap all the collective benefits of those who cooperated lose out. As such, exclusive groups are characterized by much greater degree of bargaining between actors. If individuals want to maintain the collective benefit and not suffer huge loses, than they must consciously observe the actions of others in the group.

In addition to the inclusive and exclusive nature of groups, the size of the group matters as well. Essentially, Olson divides groups into three categories: small, intermediate, and large. Olson contends that the size of the group helps to determine if collective benefits will emerge or collective-action problems will emerge.
In the smallest groups - where one individual may find it in their interest to pay the entire cost of the collective good - the necessity of cooperation and coordination is minimal. In groups at the oligopolistic level - where multiple actors must interact in order for a collective good to be achieved - there must be some form of tacit coordination or organization. In larger groups - where many people must be organized for a collective benefit to bet achieved, and there is significant option to defect - a large deal of organization and agreement are necessary in order to organize a large enough subset of the group to achieve the collective benefit. One of the major blocks of successful mobilization stems from instances where although the collective benefits to the groups as a whole are significant, there is little personal incentive to the individual to participate. Here it becomes necessary for the organization to provide selective incentives, that is, an "incentive that operates, not indiscriminately, like the collective good, upon the group as a whole, but rather selectively toward the individuals in the group" (51). These can either be positive or negative.

Olson writes, "size is one of the determining factors in deciding whether or not it is possible that the voluntary, rational pursuit of individual interest will bring forth group-oriented behavior. Small groups will further their common interests better than larger groups" (52). The main argument, then, that large or latent groups will not coordinate their action because the actions of the group will benefit the group a whole. Individuals acting rationally at the individual level may act irrationally in relation to groups.

Mancur Olson also applies his approach to collective action to analyze t theories of class (Marx) and theories of the state. Marx viewed classes and individuals as motivated to achieve their self-interest. Olson's idea of "group" can be applied to Marx's idea of class. That is, there are instances where an individual may act rationally as an individual, but irrationally in regards to group interests. As such, Olson explains the failure of class action to occur as stemming from "the individuals that make up a class [acting individually] rationally" (105). That is, individuals will forego the potential costs of class interest and instead concentrate on their own interest. They would much rather reap the benefits of collective action if the costs or sacrifices are shouldered by others. In other words, the class action that Marx envisioned did not occur because "there [were] no individual economic incentives for class action" (108).


Committees in Congress (Political Economy of Institutions)
Committees in Congress (Political Economy of Institutions)
by Steven S. Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $43.50
34 used & new from $34.46

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Distributive and Party-Dominated Committee Structures, December 7, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Deering and Smith examine the role of committees in Congress, particularly how they are structured, how they exercise power, and how the committee system has changed over time.

Deering and Smith contend that Congress is influenced by two structures, the committee structure, and the party structure. The committee structure is often explained from a Distributive Committees Perspective which contends that members "self select" on to various committees because they are interested in the policy area, they seek Washington influence, or the policy area is especially important to their constituency. From this perspective, committees are relatively autonomous and are in effect controlled by a strong committee chair that holds his or her position based on seniority. The "party structure" is often explained from a Party-Dominated Committee perspective. This perspective "emphasizes the vital role of the parties in each chamber...Because the control of appointment decisions, the parties have the capacity to shape the composition and policy outlook of their committee contingents"(3). From this perspective, committees are much less autonomous than under the Distributive Committee Model suggests.

Both perspectives have been dominant in government over time. "Thus the history of the modern Congress reflects an ebb and flow of power between parties and committees" (53).
Prior to the 1970s, committees were generally characterized by very strong, autonomous committee chairs. Chairs were appointed by seniority, and essentially maintained their position for as long as they wanted. The jurisdictions of committees were quite narrow, again granting significant power the chair over a specific policy area. Chairs also maintained a great deal of procedural power. Chairs could set the agenda of the committee, appoint members to various subcommittees, decide which bills to consider, and control of bills on the floor (32). These powers allowed the chair to promote measure they supported, and kill measures they disliked regardless of the preferences of the party and rank-and-file members.

In the 1990s, we begin to see pressure to change the system of committee chair dominance. The House adopted rules that weakened the power of the committee chairs. Reforms included the use of secret ballots for committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking minority positions. Rules were formed to limit the number power position members could have. A result of these reforms was a strengthening of subcommittee power, and subsequently the possibly unforeseen result of weakening of party leadership. "Powerful subcommittees can have a decentralizing effect on the institution, and they can weaken the full committee's chairs. Weaker subcommittees allow for a more centralized legislative process, more powerful committee chairs, and potentially closer linkages to party leaders and party programs" (150-51). (Rohde 1991 would, to a point, disagree).

In the 1990s, we begin to see a retrenchment of committee power. In the 1990s, the agenda for congress became much more streamlined which made fewer committees necessary, and partisan difference grew significantly so members had to more closely toe the party line. Newt Gingrich and the GOP leadership began to circumvent the power of committees through the implementation of summits and task forces, the creation of "leadership issues," as well as the use of "multiple referrals." These techniques coupled with a more polarized ideological divide returned some power to the party leadership.

In illustrating the transitions between party leadership and committee leadership, Deering and Smith contend that both the Distributive Committees Perspective and the Party-Dominated Committee Perspective are active in American Congressional politics. The authors write, "if the majority party is highly cohesive on the issues and most issues are salient, then that party will be in a position to impose policy decisions by virtue of numbers and a system of party-dominated committees will then develop" (227). However, when cleavages form, and subsequently the party leadership is weakened, the power of the committee and subcommittee chairs rise, and we may see a return to a Distributive Committee system. Furthermore, we may see a return to the Distributive Committee structure when, "The larger the agenda, the more separable the issues, the more frequently issues recur, and the less salient the issues, the more Congress relies on committees and the less it relies on committees and the less it relies on parties or the parent chambers to make decisions" (228).


Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment, Revised Edition (Perspectives; 12)
Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment, Revised Edition (Perspectives; 12)
by Morris P. Fiorina
Edition: Paperback
Price: $19.95
98 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Congress, the Bureaucracy, and the Voter, December 7, 2009
Fiorina contends that many politicians running for office in Washington campaign against the "Washington establishment." He contends that the Washington establishment - beneficial relations between bureaucrats, congressmen, interest groups, etc. - exists. Fiorina examines how this network how come to be. He contends that much of it stems from Congressmen themselves, although they often fail to realize that they are party of the cause. Fiorina contends that Congress today is composed of career politicians, i.e. those serving long terms. He contends that much of the reason for this stems from the fact that marginal districts - those that are not firmly controlled by one party or another - have declined and we now have many safe seats.

Fiorina contends that the decline in safe seats is partly the result of Congressman increasingly concentrating on constituent service. Congressmen in marginal districts tent to spend a lot of time in Washington concentrating on shaping national policy. As such, they are making stands on controversial issues which are quite polarizing. For every position he takes, he may gain one vote but will lose another. This is of importance because the difference between Republicans and Democrats is quite narrow. In safe districts, we are likely to see a congressman who concentrates on constituent service and maintains a nonpartisan stance on most issues. This is especially useful in that as government expands, demands for government service expand. This safe district Congressman helps Republican and Democrat alike which blurs partisan lines, and subsequently he gains more votes.
The author takes a rational choice approach to analyzing the Washington establishment. Congressmen want to get reelected. Bureaucrats want to expand their organization, and the voter wants the maximum benefit from government at minimum costs.

The congressman is occupied with three main issues: lawmaking, pork-barreling, and constituent service. Law making is dangerous. It forces the Congressman to make a partisan stance. This will alienate some constituents. Pork-barreling is beneficial. The more a congressman can bring back to the district, the more support he will receive and the more credit he can take. Constituent service is crucial. The more people he can help, the more allies he garners. Congressmen help constituents through red tape in working through the ever expanding bureaucracy. The congressmen have some power here as Congress is responsible for budgeting. As such, the bureaucracy wants the congressman to be happy, and helps constituents. This turns into a vote for the Congressman. What we see, then, is much more time spent on getting pork and performing constituent services, and les on law making.

The government is expanding, partly as the result of increased budgets established by Congress. As the bureaucracy grows, so do constituent interaction with government. This leads to greater problems between constituents and the bureaucracy which provides more opportunity for casework and more chances for the congressman to gain votes. In addition, the expansion of government provides more opportunities to get pork. Again, we have to remember that the congressman is benefiting from expanding government, and plays a role in the federal budget, so he votes for expanding government, and the Washington establishment continues.

Fiorina is arguing that voting behavior has changed as a response to changes in the behavior of congressman, i.e. law making, pork, and casework. Voters value an experienced (incumbent) congressman as he can get more done.
He contends that the strength of the Washington establishment stems from some institutional changes developed by the Congressmen themselves. These include: an expansion of staff, increased "perks," and the decentralization of parties.

Congressional staff has increased and is used predominantly to handle constituent services. The perks - paid trips home, mailings, etc. - have also increased the Congressman's connection to constituents. We have also seen a decline in the power of party leaders and greater powers with the rank-and-file congressman, and subsequently a rise in the power of subcommittee assignments. This means that there are more individual members in positions of power, especially in relations with the bureaucracy. This has led to the rise of "sub governments" in which the congressman has almost a direct line with the bureaucratic leadership which makes it easier for constituent issues to be addressed.

Fiorina is not claiming that law making is a nonissue. Rather, he recognizes that legislative action has increased along with constituent services. What we do see is that Congressmen will support legislation as it relates to their districts. Their position is carefully considered. They could care less about the actual results of said legislation. So what we see is that both constituency services have increased, as has policy responsiveness, i.e. supporting legislation beneficial to the district regardless of broad policy implications and good government.


Strategy and Choice in Congressional Elections
Strategy and Choice in Congressional Elections
by Gary C. Jacobson
Edition: Hardcover
7 used & new from $17.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Moving away from economic models., December 7, 2009
Jacobson and Kernel take issue with traditional models of vote choice, particularly, economic voting models. Economic voting models have examined both voting behavior in the aggregate, and individual levels. Aggregate models contend that national, politically relevant economic conditions, - inflation, unemployment, etc. - at the time of the election, affect election results. Scholars have also examined economic perceptions - personal finance - of individuals and the affect on vote choice. In both cases, Jacobson and Kernel contend that economic conditions - both at the individual and the aggregate level - are not the root cause of vote choice. There are other variables involved.

Jacobson and Kernel contend that national events and congressional elections have become less connected. In part, they contend that this si the result of "Weakening partisanship, candidate-centered mass-media campaigns... [and] the lack of structure in public attitudes on important political issues" (13). They contend that what really matters is the voter's perception of the two candidates that they can vote for. National issues have limited influence on their vote choice. Jacobson and Kernel propose an alternative theory. They write, "politically active elites - candidates and those who recruit and finance them - provide a crucial connecting link between national-level phenomena and individual voting decisions. National political conditions systematically shape elite decisions about running for office or contributing to campaigns. These decisions determine the alternatives presented to voters" (2-3).

When political conditions are favorable, a party (favored by the national political environment) is likely to find, and run quality candidates with a high probability of winning. When conditions are poor, finding a good, competitive candidate will be difficult. This is the result of rational decision making on the party of politicians and donors.

Politicians weigh their probability of winning office based on costs and benefits. The authors develop a rational actor model weighs their odds of winning. This is especially important due to the stratified nature of the US political system. A candidate may have to risk his seat at a lower position in order to run, and potentially lose, the election for a higher seat. As such, the candidate will not run, and risk losing if the national conditions are not significantly favorable for his or her winning. The most qualified candidate - usually the incumbent of a lower position - will not run. Rather, a much less qualified candidate - with a much lower chance of winning - will run. As such, the voter does not have two qualified candidates to pick from. The national conditions are such that there really is only one viable, qualified candidate.

Jacobson and Kernel also examine the strategic behavior of campaign donors - parties, individuals, and interest groups. A donor takes in short-term partial political conditions when making his or her donor decisions. When the environment favors one party over another, the y will adjust accordingly. When they do this, they severely weaken the candidate related to the weak party. This candidate cannot then run an effective campaign and the voters will not vote for him.

In short, the choices that a voter has are shaped by the national political environment. That is, they will not have two qualified candidates if the environment is such that only weak candidates will risk running and potentially losing. As such, there will only be one qualified candidate, and that is the one with the advantageous party. Elites and candidates act rationally when making a decision or support a candidate based on the national political environment and thus the candidates running represent that national environment - one will be good, the other unqualified - and voters make their choices based on these candidates and this is reflected in the aggregate election outcomes. That is, "All voters need to do is respond to the choices they are offered at the district level...One party then does well and the other poorly in the aggregate, because the first has a substantially greater proportion of formidable candidates and campaigns" (45).


Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics
Issue Evolution: Race and the Transformation of American Politics
by James A. Stimson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $35.95
45 used & new from $9.45

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What makes issues stick?, December 7, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Carmines and Stimson seek to explain the origin of politically salient issues, why some issues survive in a highly competitive contest for public attention, and how some issues are able to transform the political environment from which they evolved. Specifically, the look at issues and parties.

The authors contend that the ever increasing complexity of society draws many interests and issues into the competitive political environment (Berry and Wilcox 1997, would agree). In this complex arena some issues gain public attention, and subsequently importance, while others do not. Importance and attention can stem from a number of sources. First, strategic politicians may draw attention to an issue to gain power. The party in power will seek to maintain public attention on their winning "issue agenda," while the opposition party will seek to generate "issue conflicts" to upset the status quo (see also Downs 1957; and Schattschneider 1960). Second, new problems emerge, and public debate occurs regarding the best way to solve them. Third, an older issue may be applied to a new context, and subsequently a new issue may develop and evolve, different from the original. Lastly, internal contradictions may emerge between existing issues, problems, and solutions. Form this imbalance, new issues emerge.

Aside from the sources of issue competition, Carmines and Stimson are interested in the outcomes of such competition. They contend that issue outcomes can take three forms, each with various chances of reshaping the political environment. First, we may find "organic extensions" in which new issues fit into older conflicts. Because they simply are a continuation of older debates, they are unlikely to shift the political system in a new direction. Second, we may find "unsuccessful adpations" in which new issues fail to capture public attention or fade quickly. Such issues, too, are unlikely to change the political environment. Carmines and Stimson concentrate mostly on a third possible outcome, issue evolutions.

Issue evolutions are issues capable of changing the political environment, and most importantly for Carmines and Stimson, can drastically change the party system. Issue evolutions have a number of unique characteristics that make them different from either "organic extensions" and "unsuccessful adaptations" which make them better able to lead to changes in the political/party system.

Unlike "organic extensions" in which new issues simply fall into routine partisan conflicts, issue evolutions "introduce tensions into the party system, inconsistent with the continued stability of old patters" (11). Furthermore, issue evolution issues remain salient to the public for a longer period of time, and as such, tend to consist of both short-term and long-term effects.

Because of these characteristics, issue evolutions cut across party lines, and led to vote-defections, thus disrupting the "link between citizen and party" (11). Carmines and Stimson write, "Only issues of this type have the capacity to reshape the party system, replacing one dominant alignment with another and transforming the character of the parties themselves" (11).

Carmines and Stimson also discuss what types of issues are like to lead to issue evolutions. They contend that "easy" issues are likely to become issue evolutions. "Easy" issues are those that are easily understood and affect people on a visceral level. To form a strong opinion, the person does not need factual or contextual knowledge, or a vast understanding of the political world. As such, "easy" issue can produce a mass response which transcends socioeconomic divisions.

Carmines and Stimson recognize that issue evolutions are rare. Drawing the necessary attention to an issue, and maintaining that attention is very difficult. Nevertheless, issue evolutions do occur. They authors analyze the way the issue of race became an issue evolution and reshaped the political and party environment.
In short, the issue evolution model contends that on rare occasions a visceral, contentions issue will arise that can reshape both party and mass politics. Issue evolutions are a dynamic process, and as such we must establish the causal process.

Carmines and Stimson contend that the first step of an issue evolution stems from "elite reorientations on contentious issues" (160). This is illustrated by the shift of party elites to concentrate on racial issues in the 1960s. In response to demographic changes, Republican elites became more racially conservative, while Democrats became or progressive (see Rohde 1991 on how this changed committee structures). We see that the issue of race has taken on partisan emphasis.

The second phase of issue evolution consists of a "delayed, more inertial reaction in the mass electorate" in response to elite reorientation (160). Often the response stems from those who actively participate in politics. It is the "activists" who often shape the perceptions of the parties. When activists begin to see the change in elite orientations, they begin to support various political contenders. The activist perception of the parties and candidates can then be transmitted to the masses more generally. The masses begin to see the parties take different positions on an issue.

Building on this, the third phase addressed changes in the party image. When the issue is visceral (an easy issue), voters have a very strong response and through the "clustering" of beliefs (Converse 1964) the masses begin to see a "gut" issue (here race) as associated with a number of other party issues. Once parties are associated with these new "clustered" belief systems, we will see new "policy alignments among the mass electorate" (161) and subsequent potential realignment.


Congressmen's Voting Decisions
Congressmen's Voting Decisions
by John W. Kingdon
Edition: Paperback
Price: $22.41
34 used & new from $12.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modeling Decision Making, November 16, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Kingdon attempts to explain why congressmen vote the way they do. He divides his explanation into two parts, (1) the role of various actors - constituents, fellow congressmen, party leaders, interest groups, etc. - on influencing the congressmen's voting decisions, and (2) more general aspects of decision making, i.e. information flow, the actual decision making process, the role of ideology and policy preference, etc.

In regards to the role of actor, Kingdon finds that fellow congressmen have the most influence on decision making followed closely by the constituency. Fellow congressmen are the source of lots of information and as such can simply the decision making process. First, congressmen will pick a fellow congressman who is an expert on a particular policy area, and is also ideologically similar to the congressman. Similarly, a congressman may side with a more senior member, as they tend to have more experience on issues. All of these illustrate that relying on fellow congressman can decrease information costs and make the decision making process more simplified.

Constituent influence plays a close second to fellow congressmen. The member is reliant on continued constituency support for reelection. However, the member also is influenced by the intensity of the wishes of the constituency. He is most likely to vote along with the wishes of the constituency the more intensely they hold their position. On issues that the constituency doesn't feel strongly, the member may vote against his district. Most of the time, however, the member votes with his or her district. They do so for four reasons. First, the congressman is recruited from the district. His views will not be so different. Second, the congressman will have to explain his voting decisions if they diverge from his constituents. Third, he receives a good deal of direct communication from the district regarding ideological direction, and he usually follows this direction. Lastly, and most importantly, electoral concerns drive compliance with constituent wishes.

Kingdon also discusses some actors who possess significantly less influence. He begins with party leadership and committee members. Kingdon contends that they have less influence than commonly thought. He contends that party voting is less a result of leadership and committee chairs, and more a result of the fact that the constituencies of the parties differ. The constituencies will support policies most similar to one party or another and the congressmen will vote accordingly.

Interest groups also have less power than commonly though. Congressmen may listen to interest groups to gain information, or procure assistance drafting legislation, but usually only if (a) the interest groups is closely tied with the constituency, (b) the interest group is ideologically similar to the congress may, or (c) the issue is highly salient.

The executive branch also has less power than some would contend. If the president is popular in the constituency, the congressman will grant him greater support than if is unpopular. However, if the policy preference of the president is significantly different from the constituency, the congressman will vote with the constituency. Furthermore, the sanctions incentives of the president are not seen - in general - as extremely beneficial, or terribly costly.

Kingdon does touch on the effects of divided government. Many scholars contend that divided government can lead to gridlock. Kingdon, however, illustrates some circumstance where cooperation may take hold; (1) when a program has a great deal of public support, (2) the president's party is able to garner enough bipartisan support. (See Jacobson and Kernel 1983; Fiorina 2002).

In regards to the media, Kingdon contends that influence is more indirect. First, the media can, in part, shape the agenda of issues that are discussed and debated in Congress. This can happen because the press will cover an issue that (a) draws the congressman's interest, (b) spikes constituent interest which in turn places pressure on the congressman, or (c) shapes the public discussion by covering a story with a particular slant (see Zaller 1992).
Aside from the influence of actors, Kingdon examines the flow of information, and the decision making processes of the congressmen. Congressmen are faced with many decisions, and little time to analyze them. As such, they rely on problemistic searching, that is, engaging in (an extended search for information only rarely, then only when confronted with some unusual problem" (240).

In general, however, Kingdon contends that congressman consistently rely on simplified information to make their decisions, particularly from fellow congressmen and the constituency. The information that they do use, must be (a) easily digestible, and (b) must consider the political and policy implications of a given decision. Meeting with fellow congressmen of similar persuasions and constituency representatives fit these two criteria. As such, these two sources of information are "gate keepers." Interest groups, administration, party leaders, etc. - if they seek influence - must go through these "gate keepers" and influence the congressman indirectly.

Kingdon contends that the influence of actors is not the only variable in congressional voting. We still must examine the process of decision making. He looks at the consensus mode of decision making and the preconsensus process. The consensus model of decision making essentially argues that all congressional decisions are based on one initial question: Is the decision controversial? If there is no controversy, the congressman votes with the wishes dominating the environment? This simplifies the amount of info needed, and the time necessary for deliberation. If there is controversy, he looks to see if the conflict affects his "personal field forces," i.e. constituents, party leadership, etc. If the decision does not affect his "personal field forces" he votes with the consensus, that is, the predominate opinion of the environment. If conflict is present in the "personal field forces" and there is a lack of consensus, the congressman must evaluate his own goals - reelection, his influence in Washington, and promotion of good public policy. The values of these goals must pass a "critical threshold of importance." If the goals are important enough, the congressman will vote accordingly. "If none of the goals is important enough to the congressman in a given decision to be relevant, he proceeds to follow trusted colleagues with the House," i.e. consensus (247). By consistently voting with the consensus, the congressman can avoid political trouble.


Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House (American Politics and Political Economy Series)
Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House (American Politics and Political Economy Series)
by David W. Rohde
Edition: Paperback
Price: $26.13
62 used & new from $1.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Congressional Evolution, November 16, 2009
Rhode (1991) rejects the idea (as posed by Epstein 1986 and others) that the power of party leadership and party cohesion are on the decline. Rather, Rohde contends that we have seen - since the 1980s - an increase in party cohesion and partisanship in the House. In addition, Rohde's argument would call into question candidate-centered elections in which candidates vote with the constituency over the party (Fiorina 1989; Kingdon 1992).

Rhode contends that between 1887 and 1968, we saw a decline in partisanship and a weakening of parties in the House. During this period committee chairs held a tremendous amount of power to enforce their policy preferences regardless of the wishes of the party leadership and the rank-and-file. However, during the 1960s there was an increase in the number of liberal Democrats. Their views contradicted the views of the old conservative Democrats. Although the liberal policies of the new Democrats were supported by the majority of the party, their proposals were killed by the negative power of the old conservative Democrats holding committee chairs based on seniority.
In the 1970s, a new reform era emerged to ensure that the policy preferences of the party majority weren't suppressed by the few party committee chairs. The reforms consisted of three tracks. First, the Democratic Studies Group (DSG) implemented reforms to limit the powers of the chair by removing the sonority system, removing the chairs' power to appoint subcommittee chairs, allowing a majority of committee members to vote to bring a bill directly to the floor, make votes on bill amendments take the form of roll call votes, etc. Second, reformers increased the strength of party leadership by granting powers to appoint members to the steering committee, allowing for the adoption of multiple referrals, etc. Third, in order to serve as a check on party leaders, reformers increased the power of the caucus composed of rank-and-file party members. Leaders who violated or blocked the policy preferences of the party majority would be removed.

As the Democrats became more cohesive, many more bills were being passed, and many more rules were enacted which benefited the party. This was furthered by the increased power of the Speaker to mitigate conflict between members, and use the expanding whip system to increase communication and partisanship between leaders and rank-and-file members. This increased Democratic cohesiveness made them a powerful force and severely frustrated the Republican Party. Ultimately, the GOP chose to adopt many of the same organizational strategies as the Democrats to improve their own party cohesion and overall strength.

In regards to legislative consequences, Rohde writes, "The combination of greater homogeneity in both parties based on changing electoral conditions, and the employment of institutional powers to buttress that homogeneity and advance party-favored initiatives, created the context for the operation of conditional government" (169). The conditional government on both parties has led to more partisan amendments and more partisan bills battled out on the floor. The votes quite often fall along party lines.


News That Matters: Television and American Opinion (American Politics and Political Economy Series)
News That Matters: Television and American Opinion (American Politics and Political Economy Series)
by Shanto Iyengar
Edition: Paperback
71 used & new from $0.01

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Media and Electoral Behavior, November 16, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The authors contend that television news plays an important role in shaping American public opinion. The logic is that American's develop opinions on many issues, but they often have little personal experience related to those issues. As such, their opinions are based on information provided by other (Zaller 1992 would agree). Today, such information is disseminated through the media, particularly thorough TV. As such, the television has a great deal of power to shape public opinion.

Iyengar and Kinder contend that television news has an "agenda-setting effect," that is, TV news shapes what issues people view as nationally important. "By attending to some problems and ignoring others, television news shapes the American public's political priorities" (pg. 33). However, priority preferences are not static. Rather, they vary with the degree to which the media covers the event.

The authors also contend that stories occurring early in the new broadcast are more influential on the agenda-setting of the public than those occurring in later broadcasts. Still, the authors contend that additional factors play a role in agenda setting. For example, individuals who are personally affected by an issue coved by the media are more susceptible to media agenda-setting. Similarly, the more coverage and issue receives, the more likely citizens are to view that issue as a priority. Again, this parallels much of Zaller's (1992) work on the power of elite discourse.

In regards to demographic data, the authors find that citizens with higher levels of education, stronger feelings of partisanship, and are more politically active are least likely to be influenced by the agenda-setting nature television news coverage.

Iyengar and Kinder also examine "priming effects" and television news. In particular, they examine "priming effects" and perceptions of presidential approval. This is based primarily on the psychological assumption that people cannot analyze all aspects of an issue when making decisions. Rather, they rely on information that is most readily available. As such, "The more attention television news pays to a particular problem - the more frequently a problem area is primed - the more viewers will incorporate what they know about that problem in their overall judgment of the president" (65). In regards to priming, the authors contend that people's perceptions of presidential qualities depend on "which aspects of national life television news choose to cover and which to ignore" (80). That is, if the media is aiming blame at the president, priming is likely to have the greatest effect, when the media aims away from the president, there is less effect.

Quite importantly, Iyengar and Kinder contend that the priming effects of the media can shape voting decision, and subsequently electoral outcomes. "The priorities that are uppermost in the voters' minds as they go to the polls to elect a president or US representative appear to be powerfully shaped by the last minute preoccupations of television news" (110). There can be both positive and negative priming.


The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans' Policy Preferences (American Politics and Political Economy Series)
The Rational Public: Fifty Years of Trends in Americans' Policy Preferences (American Politics and Political Economy Series)
by Benjamin I. Page
Edition: Paperback
Price: $28.74
75 used & new from $0.01

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aggregate Rationality, November 16, 2009
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Scholars often lament that the public - as individuals - are ignorant regarding politics, and of their own policy preferences. This was supported, in part, by Campbell et al (1964) who illustrate the policy preferences were not strongly correlated with vote choice. This was further supported by Converse (1962) who found that the opinions of individuals fluctuated rather wildly over time. As such, Converse argued "large portions of the electorate do not have meaningful beliefs even on issues that may have formed the basis of intensive controversy among elites for substantial periods of time" (1962). Converse (1970) furthered his argument, claiming the public had "nonattitudes," and simply gave a random response because they felt obligated to do so.

Page and Shapiro (1992) contend that the individual voter may be ignorant of political issues in general, that is, individual policy preferences may be "incorrect" from a rational perspective, but the aggregate collective policy preference of a majority of citizens is not only rational, but stable. In part, the authors contend that this occurs through the theory of large numbers and subsequently normally distributed samples.

Page and Shapiro (1992) recognize that citizens may not have a deep understanding of specific political issues, but they do possess a more general understanding of major issues. They cite the example that citizens may not know what the acronym SALT stands for but they do recognize that the US and USSR are engaged in arms reduction talks.
Citizens understanding of major issues are coupled with the argument that individuals have some fundamental needs and have "uncertain beliefs" regarding how public policies will affect those needs. As such, Page and Shapiro contend that individuals have a long-term, although vague, preference for policies which will best serve their fundamental interests. Because preferences are uncertain in the short-term, they are susceptible to various sources of information and may fluctuate. However, if we "average" an individual's preference over time, we can find their "true" preference. There will be a "central tendency" and responses will fluctuate around this point. As such, if the individual has a "true" preference, then in the aggregate, there will be a collective preference. What is of prime interest here is that with a large collective sample, things like misinformation, mood swings, sampling error, etc. will be balanced out. As such, widespread public opinion can be an accurate description of the real interest of the majority of citizens, even if their own personal policy stances may not be truly representative of their core self-interest.

Page and Shapiro also draw into question the idea that public opinion changes rapidly and is unpredictable. They contend that in general, public opinion is quite stable, and when it does change, it changes in predictable ways.
The authors contend that when policy opinion changes, it does so in response to "changes in information, and changes in reality" (1992, pg. 53). Page and Shapiro divide changes in reality into two categories (a) events that affect individuals directly, and (b) those which do not affect the individual directly, but are interpreted by the individual in regards to costs and benefits. Circumstances that affect people directly include events which change the social, economic, and political life of individuals. For example, Page and Shapiro cite increases in income may promote greater support for increased social programs, or a rise in industrialization may lead to increased support for labor activity. Page and Shapiro write, "Such trends can be viewed as exogenous influences upon public opinion - independent influences subject only minimally, if at all, to elite preference manipulation" (330).
However, when events do not have a direct affect on individuals, "Citizens' assessments of the significance of trends and events - indeed, their very awareness of them - often depend crucially upon information and (especially) interpretations provided by elites, largely through the mass media" (331). This suggests that the media and elite discourse has the potential to shape public opinion. As such, in order for individuals to form valid, rational policy preferences, citizens must have access to valid information. In part, this rationality stems from "collective deliberation."

Collective deliberation helps the public to wade through the tremendous amount of political information. Page and Shapiro contend that information is processed through a complex system with many actors. The system is composed of many "specialized elements," i.e. experts, journalists, policy analysis, etc. who are all part of a larger, complex system in which they communicate with one another. This leads to a collective analysis of relevant information regardless of policy (Zaller 1992 would contend that there is a control over this debate which shapes preferences). Again, this relates to the theory of large numbers in that many individuals analyzing information, inaccuracies and biases will cancel out. Page and Shapiro write, "The public as a whole responds sensibly to events, not only as a result of statistical aggregation of individual preferences, but also because social processes of collective reasoning often produce and communicate high-quality information and interpretations" (366). Again, Zaller (1992) would disagree.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-15