Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-59b7f5684b-vh8gq Total loading time: 0.816 Render date: 2022-10-05T09:27:47.081Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

The Impact of Party on Voting Behavior in a Nonpartisan Legislature*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2014

Susan Welch
University of Nebraska
Eric H. Carlson
University of Oregon


The Nebraska nonpartisan legislature serves as a control setting for testing several hypotheses about the impact of party and constituency on voting behavior in legislative bodies. Specifically, in light of the data obtained from a setting where party identification is present but party leadership and organization are absent, the following hypotheses are examined: that political parties are important in structuring voting behavior because of the influence of party leaders and organization; that party is important because party identification is a surrogate for sets of beliefs and attitudes that distinguish members of one party from another; or that party is important because party differences reflect different constituency bases of the party. In a roll-call analysis of five sessions utilizing Guttman-scaling and regression techniques, it was found that in the absence of party leadership and organization, voting is highly unstructured. Further, dimensions of voting that were found are largely unexplainable in terms of standard party and constituency variables. Thus, party identification and constituency influence appear to be insufficient cues for the organization of legislative voting behavior, in the absence of party leadership.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 1973

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



Support for this project was provided by the Research Council of the University of Nebraska. The author wishes to express thanks to University of Nebraska colleagues Peter Shocket, Philip Dyer, Michael Steinman, and Robert Sittig for their helpful suggestions concerning this paper, and to David Capek and James Bowman for their assistance in data collection. A special thanks to Eric H. Carlson for stimulating my interest in this approach to legislative politics and for suggesting some of the patterns of analysis used here. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, Illinois, April, 1972.


1 See, in addition to the works cited below, the bibliography found in McRae, Duncan, Issues and Parties in Legislative Voting (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), pp. 299309 Google Scholar.

2 Turner, Julius, Party and Constituency, revised edition by Schneier, Edward V. Jr. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970)Google Scholar; Shannon, W. Wayne, Party, Constituency and Congressional Voting (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1968)Google Scholar; Froman, Lewis, Congressmen and Their Constituencies (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1963)Google Scholar; Grumm, John G., “A Factor Analysis of Legislative Behaviour,” Midwest Journal of Political Science, 7 (November, 1963), 336–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar Truman, David B., The Congressional Party (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1959)Google Scholar.

3 Lockard, Duane, New England State Politics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1959)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Sorauf, Frank, Party and Representation (New York: Atherton, 1963)Google Scholar; Key, V. O., Parties, Politics and Pressure Groups (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1964)Google Scholar, chap. 24.

4 For a review of ideological and policy differences between party leaders and followers, see McClosky, Herbert, “Issue Conflict and Consensus among Party Leaders and Followers,” American Political Science Review, 54 (June, 1960), 406–27CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Campbell, Angus, Converse, Philip E., Miller, Warren E., and Stokes, Donald, The American Voter (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1960)Google Scholar is a standard source on the importance of party identification on voting behavior. For a review of the influences on legislative voting see Jewell, Malcolm and Patterson, Samuel, The Legislative Process in the United Stales (New York: Random House, 1966), especially pp. 430431 Google Scholar.

5 LeBlanc, Hugh, “Voting in State Senates: Party and Constituency Influences,” Midwest Journal of Political Science, 13 (February, 1969), 3357 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for other works dealing with influences on voting in legislatures see Patterson, Samuel, “Dimensions of Voting Behavior in a One Party State Legislature,” Public Opinion Quarterly, 26 (Summer, 1962), 185200 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; McRae, Duncan, Dimensions of Congressional Voting (Berkeley: University of California Publications in Sociology and Social Institutions, 1958)Google Scholar.

6 Shannon, , Party, Constituency and Congressional Voting, p. 131 Google Scholar.

7 Flinn, Thomas A., “Party Responsibility in the States: Some Causal Factors,” American Political Science Review, 58 (March, 1964), 6071 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Froman, , Congressmen and Their Constituencies, pp. 9293 Google Scholar. Clarence Stone, however, shows that the voting behavior of representatives of different parties representing the same constituency is very different. Inter-Party Constituency Differences and Congressional Voting Behavior: A Partial Dissent,” American Political Science Review, 57 (September, 1963), 665–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 McRae, Duncan Jr., “The Relation Between Roll Call Votes and Constituencies in a Massachusetts House of Representatives,” American Political Science Review, 46 (December, 1952), 1046–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

10 See Jewell, and Patterson, , Legislative Process in U.S., “Voting in State Senates,” p. 41 Google Scholar. See also Francis, Wayne, Legislative Issues in the 50 States: A Comparative Analysis (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1967)Google Scholar; Wiggins, Charles W., “Party Politics in the Iowa Legislature,” Midwest Journal of Political Science, 11 (February, 1967), 8697 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Warren Miller and Donald Stokes found great differences among broad issue areas in the correspondence between constituency opinion and voting of congressmen. See, Constituency Influence in Congress,” American Political Science Review, 57 (March, 1963), 4556 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Patterson, “Voting Behavior in a One Party State Legislature.”

12 Mitau, Theodore, Politics in Minnesota (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1960)Google Scholar.

13 One observer writes that “neither seniority, partisanship, nor gubernatorial influence are of major significance in the power struggle in Nebraska's unicameral structure” ( Marvel, Richard, “Decision Making in the Nebraska Unicarmeral Legislature,” [Ph.D. thesis, Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska, 1966] pp. 7677 Google Scholar). Interviews with high state party officials and associates of the governor confirm the impotence of these forces in dealing with what one former governor called “an army of all generals.” Power within the chamber is diffuse; as the unicameral legislature is now organized, the Speaker is elected by the full membership on a secret ballot. Some disagreement exists as to the degree of power held by the Speaker; in the past it tended to be an honorific post, but is now becoming a more important position. See Sittig, Robert, “Unicameralism in Nebraska, 1936–1966,” State Government (Winter, 1967), 3841 Google Scholar, and Marvel, Chapter 4. Membership on the Committee on Committees is another potential source of power; the Chairman of this committee is elected by the full bouse, but the other members are chosen by caucuses of members from different regions of the state. Committee chairmenships are not awarded on the basis of seniority necessarily, and the normal term of office for chairmen is two terms. For an overview of the Nebraska political system see Kolasa, Bernard, “The Nebraska Political System: A Study in Apartisan Politics” (Ph.D. thesis, Department of Political Science, University of Nebraska, 1968)Google Scholar.

14 Wahlke, John, Eulau, Heinz, Buchanan, William, and Ferguson, Leroy, The Legislative System (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1962), p. 425 Google Scholar.

15 Interviews with legislators indicate that all are quite willing to identify themselves with one of the two major parties. These interviews are from an unpublished survey conducted by Eric H. Carlson.

16 The selection of years was not as random as it may seem. Originally the design called for the use of ten-year intervals, beginning with 1927 and continuing until 1967. Altering the selection to the years listed, however, had the advantage of allowing an examination of two nonpartisan sessions with Republicans serving as governor, two with Democrats. While this distribution was later found to have no apparent effect, at the time the data were collected, it seemed reasonable to assume that legislative behavior might be different during the tenure of governors from the majority party of the state.

17 For an explanation of Guttman scaling and its uses in legislative analysis see McRae, Issues and Parties; Belknap, George, “A Method for Analyzing Legislative Behavior,” Midwest Journal of Political Science, 2 (1958), 377412 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Farris, Charles D., “A Scale Analysis of Ideological Factors in Congressional Voting,” Journal of Politics, 20 (May, 1958), 308–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Clausen, Aage and Cheney, Richard, “A Comparative Analysis of Senate-House Voting on Economic and Welfare Policy, 1953–1964,” American Political Science Review, 64 (March, 1970), 138–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 See Patterson, “Voting Behavior in a One Party State Legislature,” and Farris, “Scale Analysis,” for example.

19 Clausen and Cheney, “Senate-House, Voting on Economic and Welfare Policy”; McRae, Duncan, “A Method of Identifying Issues and Factions from Legislative Votes,” American Political Science Review, 59 (December, 1965), 909–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

20 McRae recognizes this problem and comments that “empiricism cannot be unbounded … otherwise it might lead to such absurdities as the selection of an arbitrary group of legislators simply to eliminate ‘error’ votes or the assemblage of a meaningless collection of roll calls for which the legislators in question had scalable votes” ( McRae, , “Identifying Issues and Factions,” pp. 911–12Google Scholar). Roll calls with lopsided distributions of votes are particularly likely to scale randomly. For example, a vote with only 10 per cent dissent, even if all the dissents are “errors,” would still empirically scale with any other set of votes if 10 per cent error is the only criterion for inclusion in the scale.

21 Some arbitrariness probably entered into the decision to exclude the four scales. They had three characteristics which led to the decision: slightly lower CR's than the other scales, lopsided vote distribution in most roll calls comprising the scales, and roll calls unrelated to each other. These scales were removed from the analysis because it was assumed that they were not measuring purposive behavior, only statistical artifact.

22 Since the scales were built from the universe of roll calls and not from predetermined “issue” areas, the content of the scales is not always as precise as one might expect or wish. Thus it was found that education and local government issues are often mixed together in one scale, regulation and taxation issues seem to scale together frequently, as do taxation and appropriation bills in some cases. In the following discussion the scales will be labeled by their primary substantive content.

23 Other district and personal characteristics were used in preliminary analyses. These included such variables as the size of the legislator's hometown and his occupation, the income level and racial composition of senatorial districts, and the gubernatorial vote in the senatorial districts. The six variables chosen for this analysis were chosen because, on the whole, they explained the most variance in scale scores and minimized the problem of multicollinearity. Surprisingly, the gubernatorial preference of senatorial districts was even less related to the senator's party identification than was presidential vote. The statistics used in the analysis are taken from The Fifteenth Census of the United States, vol. 3, pt. 2, Population (Washington: U.S. Census Department, 1933)Google Scholar; County and City Data Book (Washington: U.S. Census Department, 1956, 1962, 1967)Google Scholar; Nebraska Blue Book (Lincoln, Nebraska: Nebraska Legislative Council, 1928, 1938, 1948, 1958, 1966, 1968); Census of the the Population, 1950, 2 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1952)Google Scholar, pt 27, Nebraska; Scammon, Richard, America at the Polls (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1965)Google Scholar.

24 See for example, Hays, William L., Statistics (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963)Google ScholarPubMed, especially chap. 15.

25 Hays, pp. 509–10.

26 Zavoina, W. J. and McKelvey, R., “A Statistical Model for the Analysis of Legislative Voting Behavior,” paper presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association in New York, September 2–6, 1969 Google Scholar as quoted in Jackson, John E., “Statistical Models of Senate Roll Call Voting,” American Political Science Review, 65 (June 1971), 455 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

27 Jackson, , “Statistical Models of Senate Voting,” pp. 451–70Google Scholar.

28 See also Carlson, Eric H., “Five State Legislatures: A Comparative Analysis of Roll Call Voting Patterns,” paper presented at the Rocky Mountain Social Science Association Meeting, Colorado State University, May, 1971 Google Scholar.

29 Carlson.

30 Rall, Frank, “Nebraska: Sons of the Pioneer,” in States in Crisis, ed. Reichley, James (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1964), p. 254 Google Scholar.

31 Farris, , “Scale Analysis,” p. 314 Google Scholar.

32 Jackson, , “Statistical Models of Senate Voting,” p. 458 Google Scholar.

33 Carlson, “Five State Legislatures,” Table 3; Patterson, “Voting Behavior in a One Party State Legislature.”

34 This lack of turnover may be explained by noting that the new nonpartisan legislature had 43 members, while the two houses of the 1935 partisan legislature had over 100 members.

35 It might be noted here that another evidence of the lack of structure in the Nebraska legislature is the small size of those scales that do exist. Those bills that scale formed many small dimensions rather than one all-encompassing one as cited in the New Jersey legislature. This particular attribute of the scales is not directly comparable with most other Guttman analyses because in many cases no attempt is made to aggregate votes from different issue areas, or in some cases different bills. However, Patterson (“Voting Behavior in a One Party Legislature”), without attempting to aggregate issue areas, found his scales averaged nine votes per scale.

36 An example of the weakness of the 1927 party system and the possible impact of the Progressive movement is the election scale. This scale was comprised of bills relating to the establishment of a primary election system; this policy, of course, was one advocated strongly by the Progressives and other reformers of the era. The voting, as Table 3 illustrated, was little related to party, even though election issues are one of the kinds of issues most often found to be related to party.

37 Farris found 27 scales in the House. He found correlations with party very high; only three scales had simple 4's of less than .30.

38 Breckenridge, for example, suggests that age groupings might sometimes be a factor in voting alignments. See Breckenridge, Adam C., One House for Two (Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1957)Google Scholar; the discussions about social class composition of legislators indicate implicitly that social class background affects behavior in the legislature; education is not a perfect measure of social class by any means, but does correlate with it. See Matthews, Donald, The Social Background of Political Decision Makers (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1954)Google Scholar.

39 See for example, Turner, Parly and Constituency; Truman, Congressional Party; see also Derge, David R., “Metropolitan and Outstate Alignments in Illinois and Missouri Legislative Delegations,” American Political Science Review, 52 (December, 1958), 1051–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar for an illustration of the use of indices of cohesion on another kind of group.

40 McRae, Congressional Voting.

41 LeBlanc, “Voting in State Senates.”

42 Froman, Congressmen and Their Constituencies; Shannon, Party, Constituency and Congressional Voting.

43 Shannon, chap. 4.

44 Clausen and Chaney, p. 146.

45 The 1959 election scale, the scale most highly related to party during the nonpartisan sessions, deals with elections in a very specific, post hoc way. Five of the six items in the scale deal with whether the legislature should give sanction to a recount of the 1958 gubernatorial votes. The governor of Nebraska, like all his gubernatorial counterparts, is elected on a partisan ballot. Thus, there was a grand opportunity in the legislature for Democrats and Republicans to take sides on an issue of immediate and great partisan concern. While party identification did show more correlation with this set of issues than any other, still only 41 per cent of the variance was accounted for by party.

46 Distribution of Most Important Variable in Other Scales:

47 Francis's more impressionistic conclusion was that in Nebraska the major source of conflict was the urban-rural difference (Francis, Legislative Issues in 50 States).

48 For a good discussion of this point see Froman, Congressmen and Their Constituencies.

49 See Miller and Stokes, “Constituency influence in Congress.”

50 The causal factors relating to a strong party leadership within the legislature are another question. And, in fact, party leadership may be forthcoming from outside the legislative body. Van der Slik et al. found that voting in one kind of nonpartisan setting, without party leadership organized formally within the legislative body, could be strongly influenced by partisan preference ( Van der Slik, Jack, Kenney, David, and Pernacciaro, Samuel J., “Roll Call Voting Patterns in the Illinois Constitutional Convention: A Regression Analysis,” paper presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Meeting, Chicago, Illinois, April, 1972)Google Scholar. This nonpartisan constitutional convention was, of course, operating within the very highly partisan political setting in Illinois; many of the members, although nominally nonpartisan, were responsible to the Democratic organization of Cook County; others had strong party ties to downstate Republican and Democratic organizations. See also Caleb, and Clark, Janet, “The Impact of Electoral and Party Systems upon Political Conflict in State Constitutional Conventions,” paper presented at the 1972 Southwestern Social Science Convention, San Antonio, Texas, March, 1972 Google Scholar.

51 Francis, p. 21.

52 Jewell, Malcolm, “Party Voting in American State Legislatures,” American Political Science Review, 49 (September, 1955), 779–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

53 Wiggins, , “Party Politics in the Iowa Legislature,” p. 87 Google Scholar.

54 Patterson, , “Voting Behavior in a One Party Legislature,” pp. 199200 Google Scholar.

55 LeBlanc, , “Voting in State Senates,” p. 41 Google Scholar.

56 The Governor, labeled a “progressive” Republican, had in his tenure from 1966 to 1970, embarked upon an effort to modernize both the fiscal structure and the organization of state government of Nebraska. Increasing the salaries of high state officials to make them more competitive with business and other states was one among many examples of what his opponents viewed as wasteful spending. Thus, many of these measures were opposed by the Democrats and were capitalized upon in the successful Democratic gubernatorial campaign in 1970.

57 This finding is supported by the relative lack of structure found by Carlson, “Five State Legislatures,” in the weakly partisan California legislature of the late 1950s and the Tennessee legislature, where again, strong parties did not exist at that time in the legislature.

58 Again, for a discussion on the use of constituency data as an indicator of real constituency preferences, see Froman.

59 See Stokes, Donald and Miller, Warren E., “Party Opinion Quarterly, 26 (Winter, 1962), 531–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar. It seems probable that Nebraska voters are neither more nor less informed about politics than their counterparts elsewhere. A survey taken in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the election campaign of 1970 found 56 per cent of the population unable to name their congressman, 32 per cent unable to name their congressman's party (and one can assume that some of the remaining 68 per cent were guessing). Of course, for the segment of the population that is much more aware and informed, even about policy issues, the nonpartisanship of the legislature would be less of a hindrance to some sort of rational voting behavior than for the public at large. For information on this public, see Boynton, G. R., Patterson, Samuel C., and Hedlund, Ronald D., “The Missing Links in Legislative Politics: Attentive Constituents,” Journal of Politics, 31 (August, 1969), 700–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Erikson, Robert S., “The Electoral Impact of Congressional Roll-Call Voting,” in American Political Science Review, 65 (December, 1971), 1018–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The Impact of Party on Voting Behavior in a Nonpartisan Legislature*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The Impact of Party on Voting Behavior in a Nonpartisan Legislature*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The Impact of Party on Voting Behavior in a Nonpartisan Legislature*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *