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Gender and Patterns of Roll Call Voting In the US Senate

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Gender and Patterns of Roll Call Voting In the US Senate
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  Congress & the Presidency, 37:103–124, 2010Copyright  C  American University, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies ISSN: 0734-3469 print / 1944-1053 online DOI: 10.1080/07343460903390711 G ENDER AND P ATTERNS OF R OLL C ALL V OTING IN THE U.S. S ENATE B RIAN F REDERICK  Department of Political Science, Bridgewater State University, Bridgewater, Massachusetts Previous studies of gender and representation at the state legislative level and in theU.S. House of Representatives have shown that women tend to be more liberal thantheir male colleagues and are more likely to support women’s issues. Because of thelimited presence of women in the body over the years, there is scant empirical evidenceto confirm whether this pattern is present in the U.S. Senate. Sound theoretical basisindicates that the institutional rules of the Senate, the Senate’s individualistic culture,the Senate’s six-year election timetable, and the national profile of U.S. senators maycreate conditions that allow gender differences in roll call voting to be more easilydetected than is possible in more rigidly structured institutions such as the U.S. House.This study employs a longitudinal design that pools roll call voting data from the 103rd Congress through the 110th Congress to determine whether female senators compilesubstantively different policy records than their male colleagues. The results indicatethatgenderdoessystematicallyinfluencerollcallvotingpatternsintheSenate.However,it is largely a function of female Republicans voting in a less conservative fashion thanmale Republicans on the basic left-right policy space and on a smaller set of issues of importance to women. Do female policy makers provide a substantively different brand of representationthan their male colleagues? According to most studies of legislative behavior theanswer to this question is yes. A plethora of studies have documented that womentend to compile more liberal voting records and support legislation deemed to beof importance to women more frequently than do their male colleagues, even aftercontrolling for party and constituency effects (Boles and Scheurer 2007; Burrell1994; Clark 1998; Dodson 2006; Dolan 1997; Epstein, Neimi, and Powell 2005;Francovic 1977; Poggione 2004; Rocca, Sanchez, and Uscinski 2008; Swers 1998,2002; Welch 1985). However, most of these studies have explored the relationship The author wishes thank to thank Casey LaFrance for his helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.Address correspondence to Brian Frederick, Department of Political Science, Bridgewater State University,Summer Street House Office 105, Bridgewater, MA 02325. E-mail: Brian.frederick@bridgew.edu 103  104 B. F REDERICK between descriptive representation and substantive representation at the statelegislative level and in the U.S. House of Representatives (Reingold 2008).The U.S. Senate is one institution where the impact of female lawmakers hasdrawn limited attention. Although Swers (2007) has recently attempted to addressthis empirical void, most researchers have tended to shy away from conductingsystematicanalysesofthelinkagebetweenthedescriptiverepresentationofwomenand the substantive representation of women in the Senate. This scholarly neglectis largely attributable to the paucity of women that have served in the chamber.While the shortage of female officeholders at the national level often hinders theefforts of scholars interested in studying the policy impact of women, this problemis particularly acute with the U.S. Senate. Indeed, at the start of the 110th Congressonly 16 women served in the body, an all time high (Palmer and Simon 2008). 1 Hence, there is a significant gap in our understanding of how gender influences rollcall voting behavior in the legislative process. With the ranks of female senatorssteadily growing, systematic analyses of their policy records in the body are longoverdue. This overlooked aspect of gender and legislative behavior is unfortunatebecause there is a reasonable theoretical basis to suspect that the institutional rulesof the Senate, its individualistic culture, six-year election timetable and the highvisibility of U.S. senators may produce conditions that allow gender differencesin roll call voting to be more readily identified than is possible in more rigidlystructured institutions such as the U.S. House.This study seeks to overcome the small sample size problem by employing alongitudinal designthatpools rollcall votingdatafromthe103rdCongress throughthe 110th Congress to determine whether female senators compile substantivelydifferent policy records than their male colleagues. The findings of this studysuggest that although their numbers are small, the presence of female senators inthe nation’s most high profile lawmaking body has meaningful consequences whentheSenatecastsvotesonlegislationconcerningtheinterestsofwomeninAmericansociety.However,theimpactofgenderontherollcallvotingbehaviorofsenatorsishighly dependent on party of the senator. Female Republicans tend to be positionedto the left of their male Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate on the basic left-right policy spectrum and even more liberal on a smaller set of issues of importancetowomen.Incontrast,nogenderdivideispresentamongSenateDemocratsasbothmale and female Democrats compile very similar voting records. PAST RESEARCH ON THE IMPACT OF GENDER ON POLICYPREFERENCES AND ROLL CALL VOTING Personal characteristics can play an important role in understanding the behavior of elected officials (Burden 2007). Scholars of representation have argued that politi-cians who are members of certain demographic groups may provide substantiverepresentation for members of those groups in the larger society (Phillips 1995;  R OLL C ALL V OTING IN THE S ENATE 105 Pitkin 1967). Indeed, the existing body of research examining the policy records of female officeholders has confirmed a number of different patterns as they relate tothe influence of gender on roll call voting. First, although there are some notableexceptions (Hogan 2008; Schwindt-Bayer and Corbetta 2004), just as women inthe electorate tend to express more liberal views than do men, so too are femalepoliticians to the left of their male colleagues on various measures of ideology(Burrell 1994; Clark 1998; Dodson 2006; Epstein, Neimi, and Powell 2005; Rocca,Sanchez, and Uscinski 2008). In addition, other studies limited more narrowly tovoting on issues of concern to women such as abortion and social welfare policyhave found that female lawmakers are significantly more likely to take liberal posi-tions as well (Burrell 1994; Evans 2005; Frederick 2009; Leader 1977; Oldmixon2002; Poggione 2004; Swers 1998, 2002; Tatalovich and Schier 1993). In fact,gender tends to exert a greater influence in this domain of issues than it does whenthe broader liberal-conservative dimension is examined.In spite of this evidence confirming gender differences in roll call voting,Reingold (2008) observes that there are several qualifications that must be takeninto account concerning this research. Foremost among them is that partisanshipdwarfsgenderinitspowerasanexplanatoryvariablewhenpredictingrollcallvotingbehavior (Frederick 2009). The ideological gaps between male and female legisla-tors tend to be modest compared to the differences that exist between DemocratsandRepublicans.FemaleRepublican lawmakersaregenerallypositionedtotheleftof male Republicans but they are still much farther to the right of either male orfemale Democrats.The partisan context of gender is also magnified when examined within eachparty. The impact of gender has been stronger among Republican legislators thanfor Democratic legislators (Boles and Scheurer 2007; Burrell 1994; Evans 2005;Frederick 2009; Swers 2002; Tatalovich and Schier 1993). This party differentialcan be attributed to the realignment over women’s issues that has occurred inthe past three decades (Wolbrecht 2000). Male and female Democratic politicianshave gradually converged in their support for feminist causes while the RepublicanParty has maintained a much more conservative posture on these questions. Thisparty orthodoxy often puts female Republicans in the position of choosing betweentheir sympathy for some feminist causes and loyalty to the party. For instance, afemale Republican legislator may support a bill strengthening laws supporting payequity for women even though most GOP lawmakers are inclined to oppose suchlegislation.Based on the findings of the research previously cited, several hypotheses canbe formulated in relation to roll call voting behavior by gender and party in thisstudy. The gender liberalism hypothesis posits that female senators will compilemore liberal voting records overall than their male colleagues of the same party.The women’s issue domain hypothesis holds that this relationship will be evenmore robust when the analysis is confined to a smaller set of issues of concernto women. The party differential hypothesis holds that the relationship between  106 B. F REDERICK gender and liberalism in roll call voting will be stronger among Republicans thanDemocrats. Finally, the Democratic liberalism hypothesis predicts that Democratsof both genders will compile voting records more liberal and more supportive of women’s issues than both male and female Republicans. GENDER AS A VARAIBLE IN SENATORIAL REPRESENTATION A well-established body of research now exists on the role gender plays in shapinglegislative behavior; however, largely absent from these previous studies is whetherthe policy records of female legislators differ in systematically meaningful ways inthe nation’s most high profile legislative body, the U.S. Senate. This reality reflectsthe greater volume of scholarly inquiries devoted to the U.S. House in the field of legislativebehavior(SquireandHamm2005).Inaddition,thelimitedrepresentationof women in the U.S. Senate over the course of history has impeded progress inefforts to fully engage in systematic research on this topic. Michele Swers (2007)accomplished pioneering work investigating the bill sponsorship activity of maleandfemalesenatorsduringthe107thand108thCongressesasitrelatestohomelandsecurity and defense policy. Her research indicates that the influence of gendervaries across policy areas but that female Democratic senators were specificallyworried about overcoming negative party and gender stereotypes that exist forwomen and Democrats in these policy domains and their sponsorship behaviorreflected this concern. Although this study has made an important contributionto understanding the role gender plays in the policy-making process in the U.S.Senate, it does not illuminate whether the general patterns of roll call voting bygender well documented in studies of the U.S. House and state legislative bodiesare also applicable to the Senate. A fundamental question remains to be answeredabout whether substantive differences exist between the policy records of male andfemale senators on broad indices of liberalism and conservatism and support forwomen’s issues.SoundtheoreticalbasisindicatestheSenatemayprovetobefertilegroundforexploring gender as a variable in legislative representation. First, the high visibilityof U.S. senators carries ramifications for the relationship between the descriptiveand substantive representation of women. The Senate is the most prestigious leg-islative body in the United States. Unlike many House members who can afford toconcentrate heavily on local interests, senators represent much broader constituen-cies and tend to be deeply involved in national issues much more frequently in theearly stages of their careers (Lee and Oppenheimer 1999; Schiller 2000). Senatorsareoftenconsideredfuturecandidatesforthepresidencyandmanyofthemaspiretorunforthenation’shighestofficeatsomepointintheirpoliticalcareers(Abramson,Aldrich, and Rhode 1987; Burden 2002; Palmer and Simon 2008). The high vis-ibility enjoyed by its members may have implications for the handful of womenwho have served there. Because of their national prominence, female senators may  R OLL C ALL V OTING IN THE S ENATE 107 view themselves as surrogate representatives for other women in society. Manyfemale House members report that such a perspective on representation shapestheir actions in the policy-making process (Carroll 2002). The role of surrogatefor women’s interests may be even more consequential for women in the Senatebecausetheirlegislativerecordswillreceivegreaterscrutinythanmostotherfemaleofficeholders receive. Hence, female senators may face more widespread pressurefrom women’s groups to support issues of importance to women. This expectationgains support from a recent study of press releases issued by members of the U.S.Senate that showed female senators were more likely to emphasize women’s issuessuch as abortion than were their male colleagues (Fridkin and Woodall 2005).The electoral context faced by senators could also create a set of conditionswhere gender differences in roll call voting may manifest themselves more readily.Senators are up for reelection every six years compared to the two-year timehorizon House members confront. Research on congressional representation hassubstantiated that senators tend to be less responsive to the shifting moods of their constituents than are members of the House (Erikson, MacKuen, and Stimson2002). Senators have more freedom to deviate from constituency opinion early intheir terms while tending to orient their voting records closer to the median voterin the two years prior to their reelection (Ahuja 1994; Elling 1982; Levitt 1996;Thomas 1985; Wright and Berkman 1986). In contrast, a female House memberdoes not have the luxury of enjoying such flexibility on the biennial election timetable. Therefore, female senators may be somewhat less responsive to the viewsof their constituents if those views conflict with their desire to vote in favor of policies are in the interest of women, a factor that might very well accentuategender differences in roll call voting in the Senate to a greater extent than exists inthe House.Another rationale that makes the Senate an excellent venue for exploringgender differences in legislative behavior is its unique institutional characteristics(Swers 2007). Unlike the U.S. House of Representatives, the rules of the Senateafford its members greater opportunity to exert their personal influence in thelegislative process (Sinclair 2005). The institutional norms and the structure of therules in the Senate allow members of the minority party a much greater voice in thelegislative process (Binder and Smith 1997; Schickler 2005; Sinclair 2007; Wawroand Schickler 2006). This legislative environment could increase the probability of discerning patterns of support by gender in the Senate than is the case in the morefirmly partisan House of Representatives. The majority party in the Senate has lessauthority to control the agenda than is available to the majority party leadership intheHouse.AsLee(2008)notes,“AmuchwiderrangeofissuescanbeconsideredontheSenatefloor,providingamorecompletepictureofmembers’behavioronissuesthat are not a part of the majority’s agenda” (917–18). In the present case, a lessstructured legislative process may permit more votes on amendments that compelsenators to go on the record on important women’s issues. For instance, in 2003during consideration of a bill banning a form of late-term abortion, members of the
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