Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 13 > Issue 2

Ideological Extremists in the U.S. Congress: Out of Step but Still in Office

Adam Bonica, Stanford University, USA, bonica@stanford.edu , Gary W. Cox, Stanford University, USA, gwcox@stanford.edu
Suggested Citation
Adam Bonica and Gary W. Cox (2018), "Ideological Extremists in the U.S. Congress: Out of Step but Still in Office", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 13: No. 2, pp 207-236. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00016073

Publication Date: 23 May 2018
© 2018 A. Bonica and G. W. Cox
Elections,  Electoral behavior,  Voting behavior,  Campaign finance,  Political parties
Electionselectoral behaviorvoting behaviorcampaign financepolitical parties


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In this article:
Previous Literature: The Puzzle of Party Pressure 
Our Explanation: The Strategic Nationalization of American Politics 


In the last generation, congressional moderates have become ideologically more extreme over the course of their careers. We explain this “ideological migration” of moderates as a side effect of close partisan competition for control of the US House since 1994. Competition for the House caused activists, donors and, indirectly, voters to focus on the battle for majority status. Increased attention to partisan competition reduced individual members' ability to escape blame for their parties' actions. Equivalently, it meant that members could deviate from their district preferences and pay a lower electoral penalty; they would be blamed in any event. Our empirical analysis shows that party-centeredness abruptly and dramatically increased after 1994, with the electoral penalty members paid for being out of step with their constituents correspondingly declining. This contributed to an important, albeit complicated, shift from local/personal to national/party representation.