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Title:The Impact of Competition on Congressional Behavior
Author(s):White, Marshall Harold
Department / Program:Political Science
Discipline:Political Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Political Science, General
Abstract:One of the fundamental problems in a democracy is how to make government officials responsive to the desires of those they represent. To solve this problem representative democracies employ the mechanism of periodic free elections. Yet for contemporary democratic theorists such as Seymour Martin Lipset, Robert Dahl, and V. O. Key, periodic free elections are not by themselves enough to ensure the responsiveness of public officials. One crucial condition must also be present--competition. Competition is assumed to make political leaders responsive to the desires of the mass public because they wish to avoid the sanction of electoral defeat.
If competition exerts an influence on the behavior of public officials, an officeholder should act differently under varying levels of competition. An officeholder ought to modify his behavior patterns as his prospect for an electoral defeat becomes increasingly likely or unlikely. This study, therefore, examines what influence competition has had on the behavior patterns of six Congressmen for whom the level of electoral competition changed significantly over a period of four elections. Three of the Congressmen selected saw their electoral support drop from 90 to 100 percent of the popular vote to 50 to 60 percent. The other three saw their victory percentages rise from 50 to 60 percent to 90 to 100 percent of the vote. Did these legislators change their behavior as their districts became increasingly competitive or non-competitive?
The possible impact of competition on the roll call voting of each of these legislators was examined in five policy areas--civil rights, education and welfare, agriculture, labor, and issues of defense and national security. Little support was provided for the theory that competition leads to responsiveness. Competition did not exert a substantial effect on the roll call behavior of these legislators. Only two of the six Congressmen exhibited any policy changes in their roll call voting, neither over a wide range of issues.
A second area explored was the possible impact of competition upon the district level operations of the six Congressmen. Assumably, Congressional district offices are established for casework and constituency service; and representatives are likely to accrue electoral benefits through the district-based operations they maintain. If heightened competition makes legislators more responsive to the public, then Congressmen whose electoral margins are dropping should be likely to improve the capability of their district level facilities, while those with increasing electoral margins should deemphasize their district operations. This did not occur. In fact, those Congressmen facing the least competition were most likely to increase allocations to the district, while those facing the greatest competition were not. Only one of the six allocated resources to district-based operations in a manner consistent with out expectations.
The likelihood, then, that competition has some impact on public officials as is predicted by theory that competition leads to responsiveness can be given little support on the basis of the results presented in this study. This does not mean, however, that competition is an unimportant variable in the study of politics. Competition may well be important to democracy, but not in the way others have considered it. Therefore, this study also examines the merit of the theory in its present state, and some possible implications of the data that subsequent researchers might wish to consider.
Issue Date:1980
Description:166 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8114499
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-13
Date Deposited:1980

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