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Published March 1996 | Published
Journal Article Open

Careerism, Committee Assignments and the Electoral Connection


Most scholars agree that members of Congress are strongly motivated by their desire for reelection. This assumption implies that members of Congress adopt institutions, rules, and norms of behavior in part to serve their electoral interests. Direct tests of the electoral connection are rare, however, because significant, exogenous changes in the electoral environment are difficult to identify. We develop and test an electoral rationale for the norm of committee assignment "property rights." We examine committee tenure patterns before and after a major, exogenous change in the electoral system-the states' rapid adoption of Australian ballot laws in the early 1890s. The ballot changes, we argue, induced new "personal vote" electoral incentives which contributed to the adoption of "modern" congressional institutions such as property rights to committee assignments. We demonstrate a marked increase in assignment stability after 1892, by which time a majority of states had put the new ballot laws into force, and earlier than previous studies have suggested.

Additional Information

© 1996 American Political Science Association. The authors thank the Office of Graduate Studies and Research and Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, for research support. Katz acknowledges the support of the National Science Foundation, partial funding provided by NSF grant SES- 9022882 and by the Research Board, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. We thank Garrison Nelson, Gary Cox, Mathew McCubbins, and the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research for supplying data. We further thank Mike Alvarez, Gary Cox, Will Heller, Gary Jacobson, Sam Kernell, Mathew McCubbins, Scott Morgenstern, Keith Poole, Bing Powell, Paul Quirk, Glenn Sueyoshi, Barry Weingast, and Bob Weissberg for their helpful comments.

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