Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Political Science & Public Administration
There has been a recent explosion in the volume of communication between constituents and their representatives in Congress. There is an intradisciplinary disagreement about what—if any—role this communication plays in the federal legislative decision making process. David Mayhew makes a persuasive argument based on reelection realities that this input from constituents affects the legislative decisions made by members of Congress. However, others, such as Robert Bernstein, maintain there is no causal relationship between constituent input and the decisions made by members of Congress.
In order to ascertain the degree to which this causal relationship exists—if it exists at all—comparative content analysis techniques were used. Almost 3,500 pieces of mail were received in one Congressional office during a four week period. This mail was analyzed and compared to the sixty-nine roll call votes which took place during the same month. The research question being asked was: what role did that constituency input- measured by mail received in the office—play in the legislative decision making process of that member—measured by her/his roll call voting behavior?
The evidence revealed that this particular kind of constituent input played almost no role in roll call voting. The additional logical research steps of comparing supportive and opposing mail was not possible because of the lack of congruence between the mail issues and the vote issues. However, in the few instances where there were votes on issues mentioned in some of the mail, the member’s votes were somewhat consistent with the wishes of the constituents who contacted the office. These instances were scant, however. By-and-large, the issues that caused people to write were quite different than those voted on by members of Congress. There was no direction from constituents for most of the roll call votes. In this case study, it was difficult for constituent mail to have much of a role in Congressional decision making because the issues that constituents wrote about were not even on the Congressional agenda.
However, before a sweeping conclusion is reached that constituencies have no role to play in legislative decision making, it is important to remember that this research was a case study and—out of necessity—omits key elements of potential constituent control such as elite mail input and casework. In addition, the inclusion of all mail received- including generated mail—diminished the role played by individual "non-generated" letters.
Carlson, Sarah Ann, "The Constituency's Role in Congressional Decision Making: A Case Study of Constituent Correspondence and its Effect on Roll Call Voting" (1994). Theses and Dissertations. 3756.