Using Parliamentary Questions to Measure Constituency Focus: An Application to the Irish Case

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Abstract

Individual legislators differ in the degree to which they work to cultivate personal votes. While conventional wisdom declares that the electoral system typically motivates the choice of legislative role, researchers have found difficulty assessing empirically the role behaviour of legislators. This study suggests using the content analysis of parliamentary questions as a mechanism to measure variations in personal vote-earning strategies. To demonstrate the usefulness of this approach, and the constituency focus of Irish parliamentarians, 123,762 questions tabled by Dáil Deputies between 1997 and 2002 are analysed. While evidence of some orientation toward localism is apparent, the data suggest significant variations in role orientation among legislators. Competing electoral system and non-electoral system explanations of intra-system variation in personal vote-earning effort are hypothesised and tested. Characteristics such as district magnitude, intra-party competition, electoral vulnerability, geography, education, gender and career incentives only partially explain the variation. The results highlight the need to move beyond using electoral rules as a general proxy for role orientation and behaviour.

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