The Effects of Election Proximity on Participatory Shirking: The Staggered‐Term Chamber as a Laboratory

AuthorAkitaka Matsuo,Kentaro Fukumoto
Published date01 November 2015
Date01 November 2015
Gakushuin University
Nuff‌ield College, University of Oxford
The Effects of Election Proximity
on Participatory Shirking:
The Staggered-Term Chamber
as a Laboratory
This study discusses a downside of electoral pressure. As elections approach,
legislators reduce their effort in legislative activities, albeit while increasing their effi-
ciency. To show this, we propose a new, natural experimental design exploiting
staggered legislative election calendars to identify the effect of approaching elections.
Two-way natural blocking improves the balance of pretreatments and an instrumental
variable approach addresses noncompliance by retirees. Our analysis of the Japanese
House of Councillors demonstrates that legislators up for election show up in the cham-
ber less often than those not facing election; however, when they do show up and speak,
they tend to speak longer.
Elections are the most important tool for disciplining incumbent
legislators’ activities, so long as these legislators intend to seek another
term. In order to determine whether this “electoral connection”
(Mayhew 1974) really works, various studies have analyzed whether
and how much, in the absence of electoral pressure, incumbents engage
in shirking or “behavior that differs from what would be observed
given perfect monitoring and effective punishment by constituents”
(Rothenberg and Sanders 2000, 316). Although scholars have not found
conclusive evidence of retiring legislators’ “ideological shirking”
through voting against their constituents’ preferences, scholars are in
agreement that retiring legislators engage in “participatory shirking”
through “reduc[ing] their effort level by voting less” (Rothenberg and
Sanders 2000; see also Bender and Lott 1996). These f‌indings imply
that electoral pressure discourages shirking and is benef‌icial to voters’
interests. By theoretically and methodologically reassessing the impact
of electoral pressure on legislators’ efforts, we claim otherwise: electoral
DOI: 10.1111 /lsq.12090
C2015 The Comparative Legislative Research Center of The University of Iowa
pressure can also encourage participatory shirking, thereby harming
voters’ interests by obstructing their representation in the chamber.
Presence and proximity of the next election are two sources of the
electoral connection in the literature. Studying either one of these sources
leads researchers to compare different groups of legislators and different
kinds of shirking. On the one hand, the focus on the presence of the next
election (or the “last period problem”) leads to a comparison between
retirees and reelection seekers and establishes that election presence
decreases participatory shirking (Bender and Lott 1996; Herrick,
Moore, and Hibbing 1994; Lott 1990; Rothenberg and Sanders 2000;
Zupan 1990). On the other hand, the focus on the effect of the proximity
of the next election leads to the comparison between legislators up for
election and those not up for election which has led to debate as to
whether election proximity decreases ideological shirking (Ahuja 1994;
Albouy 2011; Elling 1982; Hill and Hurley 2002; Kalt and Zupan 1990;
adt and Vander Wielen 2011; Poole 1981; Shepsle et al. 2009;
Stratmann 2000; Thomas 1985; Wright and Berkman 1986). In contrast
to these studies discussing the positive effects of electoral pressure, we
are the f‌irst to explore a negative effect of proximity on participation:
election proximity actually increases participatory shirking because
election proximity necessitates campaign activity that uses up time
which would otherwise be spent on legislative activity (Fenno 1978).
To make a sound causal inference on the issue, we develop a gen-
erally applicable method that frames staggered-term chambers (e.g., US
Senate) as a natural experimental setup. In staggered-term chambers,
during any given pre-election period, only some members are up for
election (treatment group) while others are not (control group). At the
next pre-election period, the situation is reversed: members who were in
the control group in the previous period are now up for election and in
the treatment group, while those who were in the treatment group are, if
reelected, in the control group. Since the same legislators appear in both
the treatment and control groups in data pooled over several election
cycles, observations in both groups should share many characteristics
and differ only in their exposure to electoral pressures. The virtue of the
(natural) experimental approach is to allow scholars to worry little, if at
all, about omitted variable bias in regressing a dependent variable (effort)
on the treatment assignment (up for election or not). This is due to the
fact that in a natural experimental design, “control over confounders
comes primarily from appropriate research-design choices, rather than ex
post statistical adjustment” (Dunning 2012, 24).
Our method takes full advantage of unique features of the
staggered-term setting to implement such a design. First, unlike foregoing
600 Kentaro Fukumoto and Akitaka Matsuo

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