Strategic Party Government: Party Influence in Congress, 1789–2000


  • Authors' names are arranged randomly. This article has benefited immensely from helpful comments by Ben Bishin, Jamie Carson, Kathleen Bawn, Hans Noel, Gary Cox, David Rohde, Jeffrey Jenkins, Nate Monroe, Arthur Lupia, Chris Den Hartog, anonymous reviewers, and seminar participants at the April 2006 Duke conference on Party Effects in the Senate and a June 2005 EITM workshop in London, Ontario. The authors are responsible for all remaining defects.

Matthew J. Lebo is assistant professor of political science, Stony Brook University, SBS S-749, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4392 ( Adam J. McGlynn is a Ph.D. candidate in political science, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794-4392 ( Gregory Koger is assistant professor of political science, University of Miami, Box 248047, Coral Gables, FL 33124-6534 (


Why does the influence of Congressional parties fluctuate over time? Building on prevailing answers, we develop a model, Strategic Party Government, which highlights the electoral motives of legislative parties and the strategic interaction between parties. We test this theory using the entire range of House and Senate party behavior from 1789 to 2000 and find that the strategic behavior of parties complements members' preferences as an explanation for variation in party influence. Specifically, the strongest predictors of one party's voting unity are the unity of the opposing party and the difference between the parties in the preceding year. Moreover, we find strong links between party behavior in Congress and electoral outcomes: an increase in partisan influence on legislative voting has adverse electoral costs, while winning contested votes has electoral benefits.