Congressional Elections

Post-2018 midterms, 10 reviews of titles about this unique electoral process.

books on congressional elections

Abramson, Paul R. Change and continuity in the 2000 and 2002 elections, by Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde. CQ Press, 2003. 372p ISBN 1568027427 pbk, $36.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2004

Abramson (Michigan State Univ.), Aldrich (Duke Univ.), and Rohde (Michigan State Univ.) continue their long-running account of American national elections, both presidential and congressional, in this edition updated through the 2002 midterm elections. As in previous editions, the authors provide an accessible introduction to key theories of electoral behavior and elections, including voter participation and choice, partisan identification, and campaign dynamics. Theoretically informed, their account is also thickly descriptive, drawing on detailed analyses of more than 50 years of survey data from the National Election Studies. With the support of 80 tables and figures, they richly describe a wealth of empirical evidence regarding how voters choose, which voters participate, how party loyalties take shape and change, how nominations and elections are organized, and how parties and candidates compete in the evolving American electoral universe. As they present it, this cumulative mass of theory and data is neither sterile nor dry. Instead, their account of American electoral politics is politically nuanced, historically informed, and neatly balanced in the authors’ interpretative commitment to the intersecting enterprises of empirical social science and mass-based democracy. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through professionals and practitioners. —T. Fackler, University of Texas at Austin

Busch, Andrew E. Horses in midstream: U.S. midterm elections and their consequences, 1894-1998. Pittsburgh, 1999. 254p ISBN 0822941058, $45.00; ISBN 0822957051 pbk, $19.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 2000

Midterm elections are one of the more unusual features of the American political system. In recent years scholars have tried to predict the pattern of wins and losses for the president’s party in these elections. In his thoroughly researched volume, Busch goes beyond the current fascination with presidents’ congressional coattails to examine how midterm elections relate to the larger pattern of electoral realignments. Busch demonstrates the ability of midterm elections to foreshadow changes at both state and national levels. He examines not only how midterms influence future elections, but also how they change the relationship between the president and Congress. The effect on presidential vetoes, veto overrides, and partisanship is analyzed, along with more impressionistic accounts of change. Busch further relates midterm elections to internal factional changes within the congressional parties. Factional changes, he argues, have major policy implications. Busch’s work is an excellent addition to the realignment literature. Summing Up: For general readers, upper-division undergraduates, faculty, and practitioners. —A. D. McNitt, Eastern Illinois University

Campbell, James E. The presidential pulse of congressional elections. University Press of Kentucky, 1993. 273p ISBN 0813118204 $36.00
Reviewed in CHOICE April 1994

Campbell sets out to reexamine the surge and decline theory of congressional elections first postulated by Angus Campbell (no relation to the author) in the early 1960s and explores its relationship to referenda theory. The author finds ample evidence to prove that congressional candidates of the winning presidential party benefit from a presidential election year surge. The author’s analysis of election data indicates that the surge is not limited to elections for the House of Representatives but is evident in state legislative and US Senate elections. Presidential surge effects were also found at the congressional district level—“Support for congressional candidates was influenced by support in their districts for the top of their party’s ticket.” The decline part of the theory is also found to hold true as presidential party congressional candidates lose votes in the midterm election in proportion to their vote gains in the prior presidential election. Campbell notes that the “presidential pulse” of congressional elections is a weakened pulse. This study is an excellent piece of work, reexamining with care the surge and decline theory which is now 30-plus years old. Summing Up: Thoughtfully analyzed, methodologically sound, carefully documented, this is a timely analysis of an important electoral phenomenon. Advanced undergraduate; graduate; faculty. —W. K. Hall, Bradley University

Continuity and change in House elections, ed. by David W. Brady, John F. Cogan, and Morris P. Fiorina. Stanford, 2001 (c2000). 297p ISBN 0804737371, $55.00; ISBN 0804737398 pbk, $22.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2001

The three editors of this volume have elicited excellent work from their fellow congressional election scholars. The essays explore the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s with their sky-high incumbent re-election rates, diminishing presidential coattail effects, ticket splitting, and divided government. It seemed as though “continuity” would suffice as a description of House elections, but the House elections of 1994 shattered that scholarly complacency when Republicans took over the US House for the first time in four decades. Incumbents (all Democrats) fell left and right. In seeking to explore this “change” in congressional election outcomes, the contributors have done yeoman service. They focus on explaining the elections of 1994, 1996, and 1998 within the larger context of continuity being transformed into change and question whether the new change would evolve into a new continuity. Many aspects of congressional elections are examined: insulation (or not) from presidential politics, the role of money, the eroded importance of incumbency, the electoral impact of positions taken by members of the House, the South’s move into the Republican column in congressional elections, the popular evaluation of the image of the House, and the role of race in congressional elections. Summing Up: This superb volume belongs in every college library. Upper-division undergraduates and above. —W. K. Hall, Bradley University

Encyclopedia of U.S. campaigns, elections, and electoral behavior, ed. by Kenneth F. Warren. Sage Publications, CA, 2008. 2v ISBN 9781412954891, $250.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2008

Well-known pollster, political analyst, and scholar Warren has assembled a comprehensive, jargon-free encyclopedia on how campaigns, elections, and voters shape and are shaped by the American political process. The 458 entries cover the results of all 56 presidential elections; the electoral history of each state; the management, organization, and strategies of campaign politics; the administration of elections; corruption of the electoral process; and the vagaries of electoral behavior, including voter turnout, partisanship, the evolution of political opinions, and voter choice. Each entry includes an analysis of the issue, cross-references, a bibliography, and the contributor’s name and institutional affiliation. Extras include a reader’s guide, an alphabetical list of entries, a list of the 132 contributors, and chronology, along with some black-and-white images scattered throughout both volumes. The useful reader’s guide divides all 458 entries into 15 major themes, such as ballot issue campaigns, various groups’ electoral behavior, and polls and public opinion. The nine-page chronology begins with George Washington’s election as president in 1789 under the newly established US Constitution and concludes with the 2006 midterm congressional elections. This encyclopedia—especially timely during a major election year—will provide students and average citizens with valuable information. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through graduate students; general readers. —C. A. Collins, Bucks County Community College

Kurian, George Thomas. The encyclopedia of the Republican Party, v.1 & 2; The encyclopedia of the Democratic Party, v.3 & 4, ed. by George Thomas Kurian with Jeffrey D. Schultz. Sharpe Reference, 1996. 4v. 906, 918p ISBN 1563247291, $399.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE April 1997

“There can be but two great political parties in this country”—Stephen A. Douglas, 1858 (preface). So at the bicentennial of the birth of political parties in the US, it is fitting to publish a comprehensive encyclopedia that devotes two volumes to each of the two major political parties today. The first volume begins with a history (about 65 p.) of the development of the party through various presidents, political events, and movements, ending with a two-page bibliography of books. Next, almost 50 well-written and interesting signed essays, three to four pages each, give an overview of party position on a wide variety of topics, from abortion to women, and provide cross-references to related articles and a short bibliography. The contributors are mostly university scholars, but a few are well-known authors (e.g., Jessamyn West). The essays include such recent topics as Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America. The first volume concludes with 200 pages of signed biographies, three to four pages each, for the party’s presidents, vice presidents, losing presidential candidates, speakers of the House, and other notable party members, together with lists of that party’s members of Congress and governors. The second volume consists of brief accounts of each presidential nominating convention and election, but 80 percent of the volume reprints the election platforms. Appendixes document the rules or charter of the party, House and Senate party leaders for each Congress, party defections, convention sites, chairs of the national committees, addresses of the state party headquarters, congressional election statistics, and party affiliations by Congress. Several indexes—general, biographical, geographical, and minorities and women—conclude the set for each party.

These volumes update Arthur M. Schlesinger’s History of U.S. Political Parties (4v., 1973), which includes many speeches, convention documents, platforms, editorials, magazine articles, and other documents. George Mayer’s Republican Party 1854-1964 (CH, Nov’64) does not include the platform texts. Also similar is William N. Chambers’ The Democrats 1789-1964 (1964). Several recent reference works (Encyclopedia of the United States Congress, ed. by D.C. Bacon, R.H. Davidson, and M. Keller, 4v., CH, Sep’95; Encyclopedia of the American Presidency, ed. by L.W. Levy and L. Fisher, 4v., CH, Feb’94; and Political Parties & Elections in the U.S.: An Encyclopedia, ed. by L.S. Maisel, 2v., CH, Dec’91) include essays on major legislation, policies, issues, biographies, election results, and short histories of the parties, but no texts of platforms. Congressional Quarterly’s Guide to U.S. Elections (3rd ed., CH, Jan’95 ) covers national conventions and includes brief histories of the parties and election results. D.B. Johnson and K.H. Porter’s National Party Platforms, 1840-1972 (5th ed., CH, Oct’74) contains the full text of platforms. The original essays in these new volumes on a wide range of topics from the viewpoints of each party set them apart from previous works. Summing Up: Highly recommended for political science reference collections. —L. Treff-Gangler, University of Colorado at Denver

Midterm madness: the elections of 2002, ed. by Larry J. Sabato. Rowman & Littlefield, 2003. 280p ISBN 0742526852, $70.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2003

Unlike most midterm elections, the president’s party gained seats in both the House and Senate in 2002. In this book of readings, Sabato and his colleagues explain why. Sabato’s contributions place the election in perspective, and his colleagues, both academic and journalistic, provide case studies of key senatorial and gubernatorial races. These case studies are rich in detail and comprehensive in scope. The book is an excellent introduction to the contemporary political scene. It provides yet more evidence of the continuing political realignment that is characterized by the Republican Party consolidating its southern gains at the expense of much smaller New England losses. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduates and above. —A. D. McNitt, Eastern Illinois University

Pomper, Gerald M. The New York Times on critical elections, 1854-2008, by Gerald M. Pomper with David J. Andersen. CQ Press, 2009. 630p ISBN 9780872899599, $125.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2010

This newest resource in the “TimesReference” series from CQ Press imprint examines 15 presidential and six congressional campaigns. Pomper (emer., Rutgers) chose elections considered major turning points in American history and politics. The time period covered in this volume reflects the 158 years of The New York Times, published since 1851. Chapters are organized in chronological order beginning with the 1854 congressional election and concluding with the 2008 presidential contest. Each chapter describes the nation’s political atmosphere at the time of an election. Pomper also discusses political parties and election results. The presidential elections material includes information on the candidates, their campaigns, debates, and a breakdown of the popular and electoral vote. Every chapter concludes with newspaper articles originally published in the Times, including editorials and letters to the editor. Political cartoons, photographs, and other images complete these chapters. Common newspaper practice during the 19th century included running reprints from papers with alternative perspectives. Some of these documents (including an 1864 editorial from a Richmond newspaper that called Lincoln an “Illinois Jester”) appear in these pages. This resource provides excellent primary resource materials and statistics that would support all American history and political science collections. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-level undergraduates and above; general readers. —E. S. Danowitz, Delaware County Community College Library

Tarr, Dave. Elections A to Z, by Dave Tarr and Bob Benenson. 4th ed. SAGE Publications, 2012. 793p ISBN 0872897699, $125.00; ISBN 9780872897694, $125.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE December 2012

Editors Tarr (editor of many CQ Press volumes) and Benenson (freelance journalist; formerly a Congressional Quarterly editor) have revised this latest edition to include new information and events that have occurred since the publication of the third edition (2008; 2nd ed., by John Moore, CH, Dec’03, 41-1938). This volume, part of the “American Government A to Z Series,” offers revised and updated content in 225 entries, which now include topics such as the Tea Party movement, social media, the 2010 midterm elections, and campaign finance reform. This ready reference work provides an alphabetical listing of entries supplemented by maps, charts, column notes on related topics, and closer looks. Readers will benefit from the detailed political milestones section at the beginning of the book and a section of reference material at the end. This reference material includes information that one might find in a political almanac—an added benefit. The single deficiency is the lack of bibliographic information at the end of each entry and the lack of coverage in the selected bibliography. Despite these drawbacks, this volume will be useful to anyone seeking information on elections; it should be added to all library collections. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty; general readers. —T. S. Hefner-Babb, Lamar University—Beaumont

Waterman, Richard. The presidential expectations gap: public attitudes concerning the presidency, by Richard Waterman, Carol L. Silva, and Hank Jenkins-Smith. Michigan, 2014. 208p bibl index afp ISBN 9780472119141, $65.00; ISBN 9780472029716 ebook, $55.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE November 2014

Waterman (Univ. of Kentucky) and Silva and Jenkins-Smith (both, Univ. of Oklahoma) contend that presidents, once in office, suffer from the expectations that are created during their campaigns. Using five surveys from New Mexico (a swing state in recent elections), the authors find that presidents’ favorability ratings suffer from the public’s perception that they have failed to “deliver” on their promises. Using the data from these five original surveys, the authors argue that presidents are often “victims” of their own electoral success. The public expects the president to be able to address the nation’s problems. When the president is unable to, this leads to lower presidential approval ratings, makes an incumbent president appear vulnerable in a race for a second term, and helps explain why the president’s party often loses seats in midterm elections. The real significance of this study is that it provides empirical evidence to substantiate many of the intuitive assumptions that scholars have about presidential popularity and the impact of the presidency on midterm elections. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate, research, and professional collections. —J. F. Kraus, Wagner College