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The Movers and the Shirkers: Representatives and Ideologues in the Senate.

The Movers and the Shirkers: Representatives and Ideologues in the Senate. By Eric M. Uslaner. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. 218p. $44.50.

The Movers and the Shirkers is a critique and extension of a well-cited and important research program: attempts to measure the degree to which legislators shirk, or advance their own policy goals at the expense of those held by their constituents. Such analyses (e.g., Joseph P. Kalt and Mark Zupan, "Capture and Ideology in the Economic Theory of Politics," American Economic Review 74 [June 1984]: 279-300; John R. Lott, "Political Cheating," Public Choice 52 [1987]: 169-86) typically assume a principal-agent relationship between constituents and elected representatives, and they specify a regression analysis with roll-call behavior as a left-hand side variable and various measures of constituency interests and legislator ideology as right-hand side variables. Previous work (John E. Jackson and John W. Kingdon, "Ideology, Interest Groups, and Legislative Votes," American Journal of Political Science 36 [August 1992]: 805-23) shows that these analyses are bedeviled by measurement and estimation issues. Eric Uslaner highlights a more fundamental flaw: By ignoring important and well-understood mechanisms that tie legislators to their constituents, these analyses assume what should be tested.

Uslaner's argument will ring true to anyone familiar with the political science literature on representation. Rather than emphasize regular elections as the only mechanism that compels incumbents to behave as their constituents demand, Uslaner focuses on recruitment--the decision to run for office. Simply put, potential candidates who would face large incentives to shirk, because their policy concerns are crosswise to those held by constituents, generally decide against running because they assume, correctly, that they would have little chance of winning. The result is that a sizable fraction of incumbents are well matched to their constituencies, so shirking is not an option. In the main, doing right by their constituents furthers their own policy concerns.

Uslaner also argues for a more nuanced definition of the constituency in models of shirking. As he notes, it would be no surprise to find that when disagreements exist, legislators are more responsive to the preferences of their reelection constituency over the interests of their entire district. Thus, apparent shirking--a mismatch between a legislator's behavior and constituent interests broadly defined--may reflect the essence of democracy: incumbents who try to hold the support of the people who elected them.

The core of the book is a reanalysis of the Kalt-Zupan data on voting in the U.S. Senate. Uslaner faces a classic dilemma: Use suspect data in order to facilitate a comparison with well-cited findings, or use better data and abandon comparability. In the main, he opts for comparability, which is a defensible choice, although my preference would have been to emphasize Poole-Rosenthal NOMINATE scores as an alternate measure of legislator ideology. Yet, Uslaner moves beyond contemporary analyses of shirking by estimating a multiple-equation model of roll-call behavior, and he also exploits some additional sources, including a CBS poll of Senate incumbents.

Uslaner finds little systematic shirking. When it does occur, it is more directed at satisfying reelection constituencies than at furthering an incumbent's policy goals at the expense of constituents. Moreover, the policy preferences of Senate incumbents are strongly related to those of the people who elected them--their geographic and reelection constituencies. The point is not that Senate incumbents are well controled; rather, to paraphrase John Kingdon, they just reflect where they came from.

Uslaner's results do not preclude shirking on proposals of little interest to constituents, or isolated, idiosyncratic shirking that is masked by aggregate measures. What the book confirms is that contemporary analyses of shirking, by largely ignoring recruitment, overlook a critical mechanism that binds legislators to their electorate.

An additional strength of this book is the author's self-consciousness about method. The analysis chapters emphasize how Uslaner constructed measures and arrived at specifications, as well as the effect of alternate variables and models. In this sense, the book would be ideal for discussions in a graduate methods class. Readers may disagree with some of Uslaner's assumptions, but these areas of disagreement are easy to find.

In sum, The Movers and the Shirkers is an important correction to contemporary studies of representation. Uslaner moves the debate away from expectations based on simplistic principal-agent models and toward a more realistic specification of the ties that bind incumbents to constituencies.

William Bianco, Pennsylvania State University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Bianco, William
Publication:American Political Science Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2001
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