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Strategic Politicians and the Dynamics of U.S. House Elections, 1946-86

Gary C. Jacobson
The American Political Science Review
Vol. 83, No. 3 (Sep., 1989), pp. 773-793
DOI: 10.2307/1962060
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1962060
Page Count: 21
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Strategic Politicians and the Dynamics of U.S. House Elections, 1946-86
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Abstract

Analysis of both district-level and aggregate time-series data from postwar House elections supports the thesis that strategic political elites play a pivotal role in translating national conditions into election results and therefore in holding members of Congress collectively accountable for the government's performance. More high-quality candidates run when prospects appear to favor their party; they also win significantly more votes and victories than other candidates in equivalent circumstances. Thus, strategic career decisions both reflect and enhance national partisan tides. The electoral importance of strategic politicians has grown over time in tandem with the trend toward candidate-centered electoral politics. This has rendered the effects of national forces less automatic, more contingent, thus threatening the capacity of elections to enforce some degree of collective responsibility.

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