The Electoral Costs of Party Loyalty in Congress

This is a review of The Electoral Costs of Party Loyalty in Congress (2010) by Jamie L. Carson, Gregory Koger, Matthew J. Lebo, and Everett Young. American Journal of Political Science 54 (July): 598-616. You can find the original in Google Scholar.

Voters dislike partisans more than ideologues.

Yesterday, I wrote about Ansolabehere and Jones’s article in AJPS showing that voters really do hold members of Congress accountable for their voting record in Congress. On the very next page in AJPS, we find another article on the same theme. But Carson et al. want to change the way we think about this accountability. Usually, we think about the correlation between the voter’s and the member’s ideology. That’s the approach Ansolabehere and Jones took, since they were comparing voter preferences on specific issues to actual roll call votes on those same issues.

Carson et al. say that we should look at the partisan tilt of each member’s voting record. Look at partisanship, not ideology. Of course, ideology and partisanship are closely related. But Carson et al. argue that voters are more willing to tolerate ideological extremity than partisan extremity. In political sciency terms, voters would rather tolerate a bad DW-NOMINATE score than a bad party unity score. They back this claim up with both experimental and observational evidence.

This view makes sense. Think back to 2008, when the Obama campaign had great fun advertising McCain’s 90+% “presidential support” score. Likewise, it seems that a Republican in a House race could blast her opponent’s high party unity score in an effort to tie her opponent unfavorably to Pelosi.

It’s not clear to me how revolutionary this research is given the strong correlation between ideology and partisanship, but it’s certainly interesting to think that maybe voters dislike partisans more than ideologues.

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