Get access

Assessing the Electoral Connection: Evidence from the Early United States


  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, New Orleans, LA. We thank Ben Bishin, Michael Crespin, Jeff Jenkins, Sam Kernell, Michael MacKuen, Nathan Monroe, Jason Roberts, Dave Rohde, Rick Wilson, the anonymous referees, and especially Kim Hill and Jan Leighley for helpful comments and suggestions.

Jamie L. Carson is assistant professor of political science, The University of Georgia, 104 Baldwin Hall, Athens, GA 30602 ( Erik J. Engstrom is assistant professor of political science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 325 Hamilton Hall, CB#3265, Chapel Hill, NC 27599 (


Students of legislative behavior are divided over the extent to which an electoral connection existed in the early United States. In this article, we offer a test of the electoral connection in early American politics by investigating the electoral aftershocks of the disputed presidential election of 1824. Using newly available county-level presidential voting data, along with the unique circumstances associated with the presidential contest, we examine the connection between representative behavior, district public opinion, and electoral outcomes. We find that representatives who voted for John Quincy Adams in the House contest, yet were from districts supporting Andrew Jackson, were targeted for ouster and suffered a substantial vote-loss in the subsequent midterm election. We also find that the entry of a quality challenger had a sizeable impact on the fortunes of incumbent legislators. These results serve to confirm that representatives could be held accountable for their behavior in office during the antebellum era.