Self‐selection or Socialization? A Dynamic Analysis of Committee Member Preferences

Published date01 August 2010
Date01 August 2010
University of Aarhus
Self-selection or Socialization?
A Dynamic Analysis of
Committee Member Preferences
Theories on committee power assert that legislators self-select to committees
and therefore have preferences regarding the policy issues under the committees’
jurisdictions that differ from the preferences of noncommittee members. I argue that
preference outliers may be shaped both by processes of self-selection and by endog-
enous processes within committees. Contrary to previous examinations of committee
member preferences, the study utilizes a dynamic approach to examine the development
of preferences over time in order to separate self-selection from endogenous processes.
Analyzing the development in the spending preferences of 859 Danish local politicians
over three different election periods, I nd that politicians increasingly prefer spending
on their committees’ jurisdictions over time, but their preferences do not change to
the same extent on policy issues beyond their committees’ jurisdictions. The ndings
point to the importance of endogenous processes in committees. Hence, committees
may be outliers for very different reasons than those proposed by mainstream theory.
The relationship between politicians’ committee afliations and
their preferences has received much attention in the literature (see, for
instance, Adler and Lapinski 1997; Battista 2006; Groseclose 1994;
Krehbiel 1996; Krehbiel, Shepsle, and Weingast 1987; and Shepsle
1978). If preferences are linked to committee membership, then
decisions in legislatures may not reect the aggregate opinion of the
oor but instead the aggregate opinion of the committee members, who
will often be able to use their informational advantage to shape the
decisions of the oor in a certain direction (Adler and Lapinski 1997,
898; Groseclose 1994, 440; Weingast and Marshall 1988). Committee
members may sometimes even have decision-making power themselves.
Some scholars have argued that such a biased policy process is neither
in the spirit of democracy (Hernes 1984, 163) nor satisfactory from an
economic or a distributional viewpoint (Egeberg, Olsen, and Saetren
1978, 123; Hernes 1984, 163; Lundtorp 2001, 316f).
338 Martin Baekgaard
The traditional assumption among political scientists has been
that there is a link between politicians’ committee afliations and
their preferences because politicians self-select to committees to attain
personal benets from committee membership (Sprague 2008, 310).
Because politicians systematically self-select to committees, committees
come to be composed of members whose preferences differ from the
preferences of the rest of the oor with regard to the committees’
jurisdictions (Adler and Lapinski 1997, 898).
Despite a substantial body of research on the topic, the question
still remains: are the differences between committee member prefer-
ences and the preferences of noncommittee members really caused by a
process in which politicians systematically self-select to committees to
pursue their self-interests? (See Baekgaard N.d.; Payne 1991; Serritzlew
2003; and Sørensen 1995 for some considerations of other explanations.)
If committee outliers can be equally well explained by processes other
than self-selection, then previous researchers may have failed to draw
the right conclusions about how committee outliers can be prevented.
Hence, from a theoretical as well as a practical perspective, it is essential
for us to know which processes shape committee member preferences.
As an alternative to the self-selection perspective, my proposal is that
committee member preferences are shaped by endogenous processes
within committees (Wildavsky 1987).
The research question is tackled by conducting an a priori analysis
to compare the implications of the self-selection perspective and the
endogenous perspective. I argue that both perspectives can explain
the occurrence of committee outliers. Yet the expectations that one
derives from the perspectives are very different if one considers the
development in politicians’ preferences over time. In other words, the
two perspectives may be separated from one another if one accounts
for the impact of time. I conducted an empirical analysis to compare
patterns of stability and change in 859 Danish local politicians’
spending preferences and committee memberships over three different
election periods in order to clarify whether the patterns t the expecta-
tions of the endogenous perspective or the self-selection perspective.
Previous investigations have consistently shown that the preferences
of committee members in Danish municipalities diverge from those of
the rest of the politicians (Jakobsen and Thorgård 2004, 85; Mouritzen
1985; Serritzlew 2003), thus making the Danish case highly relevant
for investigations into why the preferences of committee members and
noncommittee members differ.

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