Electoral Incentives in Congress
Revealing look at what motivated legislators in the nineteenth century and how those factors compare to today
David Mayhew’s 1974 thesis on the “electoral connection” and its impact on legislative behavior is the theoretical foundation for research on the modern U.S. Congress. Mayhew contends that once in office, legislators pursue the actions that put them in the best position for reelection. The electoral connection is a post-World War II phenomenon, but legislative scholars now suggest that Mayhew’s argument applies to earlier congressional eras. To assess these claims, Carson and Sievert investigate whether earlier legislators were motivated by the same factors that influence their behavior today, especially in pursuit of reelection. They examine how electoral incentives shape legislative behavior throughout the nineteenth century by looking at patterns of turnover in Congress; the re-nomination of candidates; the roles of parties in recruiting candidates, and by extension their broader effects on candidate competition; and, finally by examining legislators’ accountability. The results have wide-ranging implications for the evolution of Congress and the development of various legislative institutions over time.
“Carson and Sievert have produced a highly original work of scholarship. They convincingly show that the reelection imperative has been a driving element of congressional politics since the founding of the republic. Their book is an accessible and important contribution to the study of American politics.”
—Erik Engstrom, University of California, Davis
In this pathbreaking study, Carson and Sievert convincingly demonstrate that many of the hallmarks of the modern congressional electoral landscape were already in place in the nineteenth century. This book will fundamentally change the way we think about electoral competition and political careers over the course of American history.
—Charles Finocchiaro, University of Oklahoma
“Electoral Incentives in Congress renews a focus on one of the most important books ever written about Congress, draws together disparate matters that together make up the Congress of the 1800s, and makes a significant contribution to our understanding of legislative and party politics in that era.”
—Andrew Taylor, NC State University
“The authors present an impressive array of data and evidence to support their arguments . . . this book makes a major contribution to the field of American Political Development.”
—Jon R. Bond, Texas A&M University
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