Constituent Approval and Presidential Support: The Mediating Effect of Party and Chamber

Date01 March 2021
Published date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(1) 76 –89
© 2019 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912919866511
There is general agreement that presidential approval
affects congressional support for the president. A fre-
quently cited linkage mechanism between approval and
support is reelection—legislators’ support will covary
with constituent approval to maximize their reelection
prospects. The electoral connection theory assumes legis-
lators will be responsive to the opinions of constituents in
their districts. Yet, considerable disagreement in the lit-
erature exists over the impact of approval on support.
Some studies find a positive relationship between
approval and support (Barrett and Eshbaugh-Soha 2007;
Beckmann 2010; Bond, Fleisher, and Wood 2003; Brace
and Hinckley 1992; Canes-Wrone and De Marchi 2002;
Edwards 1976, 1977, 1980, 1989, 1997; Lebo and
O’Geen 2011; Ostrom and Simon 1985; Rivers and Rose
1985), but others do not, or at best, find a modest relation-
ship (Bond and Fleisher 1980, 1984, 1990; Bond, Fleisher,
and Northrup 1988; Borrelli and Simmons 1993, Cohen
et al. 2000; Collier and Sullivan 1995; Fett 1994; Peterson
1990). One study even finds a negative relationship
(Lockerbie, Borrelli, and Hedger 1998).
Two challenges exist in trying to resolve the disagree-
ment about the effect of approval on support. First,
although most agree that the approval–support relationship
may vary with contextual factors, few studies investigate
whether contextual factors moderate the approval–support
relationship. One relevant study, Dwyer and Treul (2012),
demonstrates on Senate data that opposition members are
more responsive to state-level presidential approval than
co-partisans. There are good reasons for such party asym-
metry. Co-partisans will support the president even when
the president is not popular because doing so may help
their reelection chances (Cohen 2011; Lebo and O’Geen
2011). Opposition legislators face a different incentive
mix, with their party pulling them to oppose the president,
but reelection concerns pushing them to support the presi-
dent when he is popular among their constituents. Thus,
opposition members should be more responsive to constit-
uent-level approval than co-partisans. Second, testing the
approval–support hypothesis requires approval data for
member constituencies. Constituency-level approval data
for the Senate (at the state level) are rare and such data are
nearly nonexistent for the House. One contribution of our
paper is the use of a relatively new method for estimating
subnational opinion, multiple regression poststratification
866511PRQXXX10.1177/1065912919866511Political Research QuarterlyCohen and Rottinghaus
1Fordham University, Bronx, NY, USA
2University of Houston, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Brandon Rottinghaus, Department of Political Science, University of
Houston, 3551 Cullen Boulevard, Room 447, Philip Guthrie Hoffman
Hall, Houston, TX 77204, USA.
Constituent Approval and Presidential
Support: The Mediating Effect of Party
and Chamber
Jeffrey E. Cohen1 and Brandon Rottinghaus2
Approval affects congressional support for the president, with a reelection motivation the main linkage mechanism.
Yet, the literature has not fully explored this linkage due to theoretical barriers and serious data limitations. Using
a new theory and novel data, we argue that the impact of the reelection motivation should vary with contextual
factors. This paper identifies two such factors rarely explored together: member party and chamber. We hypothesize
that opposition party legislators will be more responsive to constituent approval than co-partisans, but this partisan
differential will hold only for the Senate, not the House. We test our hypothesis on House and Senate data, from
2006 through 2012, using multiple regression poststratification (MRP) to measure district and state approval of the
president. The analysis finds support for the chamber differences hypothesis that has implications for partisanship and
president, congress, approval, legislation

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