Many studies have been done to determine what has the strongest influence on a Representative s vote, particularly on social issues. Examining just a few of these, it is apparent that there is no strong consensus on this issue. Party, ideology, race, constituency, or any combination of these has been suggested as the major influence on the modern Congressperson.
Jerrold Schneider argues that ideology has the strongest impact on how a Representative will vote. He says that by understanding their ideology you will be more likely to predict their future voting patterns. Schneider says, The results show very high ideological consistency among all policy dimensions. (pg. 195)> Although, he does not deny that other factors perhaps party, can have an impact on a vote as well.
Another study, done by Morris Fiorina, disagrees with this conclusion, though. Fiorina believes that a Representative s primary goal is reelection and, therefore, votes for his constituents. A Representative s votes are not simply passive responses to role expectations, group memberships, and interest group pressures. Rather, the representative votes with an eye toward achieving valued consequences (pg. 29). But once again it is not denied that party loyalty does have an impact on a Representatives decisions and votes.
Another scholar, Aage R. Clausen, has a different theory. He believes that both constituency and party loyalty play major roles in how Representatives cast a vote. He argues, Party is a link with the past and with the constituency, and it provides a basis for establishing new friendships and working relations in the confusing whirlpools of Washington politics (pg. 120). He believes that because of the way Representatives are grouped and associated within Congress party cohesion is inevitable.
Looking at two other studies on this issue has lead to similar conclusions. Both of these studies concluded that both party and ideology were deciding factors when a Representative votes. This is because Democrats tend to have shared ideologies just as Republicans have shared ideologies. William Shaffer s study showed that the party differences were substantial in all sections of the country, particularly in the Midwest and Far West regions. The associated eta coefficients indicate that the correlation between party and ideology was moderate-to-strong (pg. 330). While Rosenthal and Poole state that efforts aimed at explaining congressional voting behavior on the basis of constituency, economic interests, or other preferences for that matter, is likely to perform relatively poorly analysis leads them to the conclusion that the great bulk of roll call voting can be accounted for by party affiliation (pg. 600).
As these scholars have suggested, I believe that party is the most important variable influencing voting on social issues in Congress. This hypothesis will be tested using data from the 105th House of Representatives. Five dependent variables that involve social issues that this House voted on will be analyzed. The first vote involved whether the Ten Commandments should be displayed in public buildings, the second vote was on banning partial birth abortions, the third makes it easier to try juveniles who have committed federal crimes, the fourth would ban flag desecration, and the last would eliminate NEA funding.
After determining whether each dependent variable was voted on in a partisan manner, control variables will be introduced. If the results remained consistent after introducing a control variable then party did have strong impact. Otherwise, the control variable might be a determining factor in the Representative s vote. Control variables will look at ideology, constituency, and Representatives background.
After analyzing this extensive data, it is evident to me that party does play a major role in Congressional votes on social issues. On these issues in particular, Republicans were almost unanimously in agreement on every vote. Democratic partisanship was not as intense on all issues but was still very evident. Looking more closely at each issue will further illustrate this.
Without a control variable 97.7 percent of Republicans voted yes on the bill to desplay the Ten Commandments. By adding control variables there is no impact on their voting decisions. Republicans are strongly partisan on this issue. Democrats, on the other hand, are less influenced by party. Without a control variable, 60.4 percent of Democrats voted no on this bill. This leads to the conclusion that some control variables must have had an impact, along with party, on their votes.
Region appears to have some impact on the Democratic vote. The Eastern and Western regions strongly oppose this bill while the midwest and south remain neutral. Also, 85.3 percent of female Democrats voted no on this issue which is much higher than without a control variable. It also appears that race might have played a role in the Democrats decisions. Nonwhite Democrats were strongly against the bill. Democrats who belonged to upper income districts and districts with high house values were also more likely to vote no. This leads to the conclusion that, on this bill, Republicans were strongly unified while Democrats did not place a high importance on party. Other variables influenced their votes.
The vote on banning partial birth abortion showed similar results. With and without control variables, Republicans remained strongly unified on this issue. Ninety-five percent of Republicans voted yes on this bill. Democrats voted more neutral with 61.9 percent voting no which suggests that party was not the only influence on the Democratic vote.
Region was once again an impact. The Western region was strongly against partial birth abortions (95.1%) and women were also against this bill with 97.1 percent of them saying no. Race also appeared to be a strong influence. White votes were neutral but African Americans (94.4%) and other races were against the bill. Family income and house value also played a role in the vote. The higher the income and house value of their districts, the more they voted no on partial birth abortion. In conclusion, Republicans were strongly united on this issue while party played a minor role for Democrats.
The issue of juvenile crime is a highly partisan one. Ninety-seven percent of Republican voted yes on this bill while eighty-one percent of Democrats voted against it. Furthermore, adding control variables has little or no effect on the impact of either party s decision.
By region, more Democrats from the West (93.8%) voted no while fewer Democrats from the South voted no (66.1%). More females Democrats voted no (93.8%). For both Republicans and Democrats the higher the percentage of African Americans in their district, the more intense their partisan voting becomes. And for Democrats, house value shows some impact. Districts with higher house values have more no votes on this bill. Overall, this bill is very partisan with little impact from control variables.
The next bill deals with the issue of flag desecration. The chart below shows the results before any control variables are added. Republicans strongly favor this bill while Democrats are split down the middle. Democrats do not appear to be influenced by party so some other variable must have had an impact on their vote. Republicans remain strongly in favor of this bill even when independent variables are added.
For Democrats, region plays a stronger role than party. The Southern region showed strong support for this bill while the Western region was strongly against it. House value in their district seemed to have an impact on the vote. With houses over two hundred thousand dollars, seventy-five percent of Democrats voted no, while districts with house values under fifty thousand dollars supported it with 66.7 percent of the vote.
Finally, the bill involving the NEA funding appeared to be influenced primarily by party as can be seen in the chart.
Adding control variables seems to have little impact on the party influence. Republicans were not effected at all by control variables and some influence was detected for the Democrats.
For Democrats, one hundred percent of females voted no on the bill while 80.8% of males were against it. By region, in the South , fewer Democrats voted no (66%) and in the North more voted no (95%). House value also seemed to have some influence on the vote. The chart below shows how the NEA bill is effected by adding Median House Value in the district as a control variable. For Democrats:
The Republican vote stays consistent in all districts while Democratic votes seem to shift as house value decreases. This suggested that Representatives are taking into account their constituents when placing this vote. Either way, party does have a very strong impact on both Republicans and Democrats for this bill.
In conclusion, party does have a significant impact on how a Representative will vote on social issues. Republicans seem to be more unified, at least on these issues, than Democrats. Democrats are still influenced greatly by party affiliation. Some of the studies mentioned earlier suggested that the vote was primarily influenced by other factors. While these other factors may have some effect on how the Representatives will vote, it is obvious from my analysis that party cannot be ignored. For all five of these bills Republicans were solidly united no matter what control variables were added. Democrats also remained partisan even though they also took other factors into account as well.
Ideology did not appear to have a significant impact on any of these bills when it was added as a control variable. This can probably be explained by the fact that party and ideology are so closely related, as was discussed by one of the earlier studies. Democrats share the same ideologies as their fellow Democrats and the same can be said for Republicans.
Region seemed to be the strongest control variable in this analysis. Even on bills that were highly partisan for both Democrats and Republicans there was some evidence of region influence. Median family income of a district and house value in a district also seemed to be a concern of the Representatives. Perhaps this is their way of voting for their constituents. If a bill will benefit the wealthy only by hurting the poor they must look at the income of their constituents to get an idea of how they should vote. This is not true for all Representatives but there is some evidence that an influence exists.
Other factors, the control variables in this analysis, may be weighed when a Representative votes but in general votes are placed according to party lines. The Republican votes in this study are especially good examples of this. The NEA bill and the juvenile crime bill were both influenced mostly by party for both Democrats and Republicans. The impact that party has on modern legislation is strong and undeniable.
Clausen, Aage, How Congressmen decide (New York: St. Martin s Press, 1973).
Fiorina, Morris, Representatives, Roll Calls, and Constituencies (Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Company, 1974).
Johnson, Ronald, Book Review: A Political Economical History of Roll Call Voting, Journal of Economic History, vol. 58 (June 1998), 600-601.
Schneider, Jerrold, Ideological Coalitions in Congress (Washington D.C. : University press of America, 1980).
Serra, George, Book Review: The Paradox of Representation, Congress and the Presidency, vol. 25 (Autumn 1998) , 218-220.
Shaffer, William, Party Ideology in the United States Congress (Conneticut : Greenwood Press, 1979).
The Party Unity Definition, Congressional Quarterly Weekly, vol. 56 (January 3, 1998), 33.