The Logic of Congressional Action

The Logic of Congressional Action

Congress regularly enacts laws that benefit particular groups of localities while imposing costs on everyone else. Sometimes, however, Congress breaks free of such parochial concerns and enacts bills that serve the general public, not just special interest groups. In this important and original book, R. Douglas Arnold offers a theory that explains not only why special interests frequently triumph but also why the general public sometimes wins.  By showing how legislative leaders build coalitions for both types of programs, he illuminates recent legislative decisions in such areas as economic, tax, and energy policy.

Arnold's theory of policy making rests on a reinterpretation of the relationship between legislators' actions and their constituents' policy preferences. Most scholars explore the impact the citizens' existing policy preferences have on legislators' decisions.  They ignore citizens who have no opinions because they assume that uninformed citizens cannot possibly affect legislators' choices.  Arnold examines the influence of citizens' potential preference, however, and argues that legislators also respond to these preferences in order to avoid future electoral problems.  He shows how legislators estimate the political consequences of their voting decisions, taking into account both the existing preferences of attentive citizens and the potential preferences of inattentive citizens.  He then analyzes how coalition leaders manipulate the legislative situation in order to make it attractive for legislators to support a general interest bill.


R. Douglas Arnold

In this prize-winning book, R. Douglas Arnold offers a theory that expalins how legislators make decisions across the whole range of domestic policy, showing why organized interests frequently triumph and why the general public sometimes wins. By demonstrating how legislative leaders build coalitions for both parochial and general interest programs, he illuminates recent legislative decisions in such areas as economic, tax, and energy policy.

"This will be one of the most influential books on Congress--and hence, on American politics--for the next ten years. A very sophisticated book by someone who understands politics and who has original, important things to say about the relationship between politicians and citizens." --Richard F. Fenno, Jr., author of Home Style: House Members in Their Districts

"An outstanding piece of work. This is the most important book of its kind since Mayhew's Congress: The Electoral Connection. Arnold's work generates an abundance of fresh insights into legislative politics and expands and enriches our understanding of how the 'electoral connection' works. The book fills a serious gap in the theoretical literatiure on Congress, and it does so clearly, elegantly, and persuasively. It will immediately achieve the status of a book that every serious student of Congress and of public policy has to know." --Gary C. Jacobson, author of Money in Congressional Elections

"The Logic of Congressional Action is one of the most important books on Congress published in the past decade and . . . it will be widely read and discussed in the decade ahead. Every serious student of Congress will become familiar with Arnold's argument and the book will be assigned in most every course on Congress . . . A tour de force." --Thomas E. Mann, Congress and the Presidency

"An uncommonly original work . . . . Arnold's model and his conclusions about congressional decision making are ones with which all congressional scholars will have to contend." --Barbara Sinclair on Behalf of the Fenno Prize Committee

Winner of the 1991 Richard F. Fenno Prize of the Legislative Studies Section of the American Political Science Association

R. Douglas Arnold is professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University



List of Figures and Tables / ix
Acknowledgments / xi

Part I

A Theory of Policy Making

1 Explaining Congressional Action / 3
2 Policy Attributes and Policy Preferences / 17
3 Policy Preferences and Congressional Elections / 37
4 Electoral Calculations and Legislators' Decisions / 60
5 Strategies for Coalition Leaders / 88
6 Policy Decisions / 119

Part II

The Theory Applied

7 Economic Policy / 149
8 Tax Policy / 193
9 Energy Policy / 224

Part III

Assessing Congressional Action

10 Citizens' Control of Government / 265
Index / 277