Partisan Balance: Why Political Parties Don't Kill the U.S. Constitutional System

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Overview

With three independent branches, a legislature divided into two houses, and many diverse constituencies, it is remarkable that the federal government does not collapse in permanent deadlock. Yet, this system of government has functioned for well over two centuries, even through such heated partisan conflicts as the national health-care showdown and Supreme Court nominations. In Partisan Balance, noted political scholar David Mayhew examines the unique electoral foundations of the presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives in order to provide a fresh understanding for the government's success and longstanding vitality.

Focusing on the period after World War II, and the fate of legislative proposals offered by presidents from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, Mayhew reveals that the presidency, Senate, and House rest on surprisingly similar electoral bases, with little difference in their partisan textures as indexed by the presidential popular vote cast in the various constituencies. Both congressional chambers have tilted a bit Republican, and while White House legislative initiatives have fared accordingly, Mayhew shows that presidents have done relatively well in getting their major proposals enacted. Over the long haul, the Senate has not proven much more of a stumbling block than the House. Arguing that the system has developed a self-correcting impulse that leads each branch to pull back when it deviates too much from other branches, Mayhew contends that majoritarianism largely characterizes the American system. The wishes of the majority tend to nudge institutions back toward the median voter, as in the instances of legislative districting, House procedural reforms, and term limits for presidents and legislators.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
In this work, Mayhew pursues the question of whether presidential requests are affected by persistent partisan biases of the Senate and the House. . . . This is an analysis of particular interest to those concerned about the dynamics of presidential-congressional interactions over legislation since WWII.
Books & Culture
Armed with impressive datasets and thoughtful analysis, Mayhew makes the case that our constitutional system usually works the way that we want it to work. . . . Mayhew is well respected by his peers, and Partisan Balance reminds the reader why he is such a trusted voice in political science. . . . Readers wanting explanation and evidence for why the U.S. Constitution and the political system it established remain robust and vibrant will find many rewards in Mayhew's latest book.
Matthew Yglesias blog
Any time you read something David Mayhew has written, you end up learning something. His latest book, Partisan Balance, is no exception to that rule.
— Matthew Yglesias
Matthew Yglesias blog
Any time you read something David Mayhew has written, you end up learning something. His latest book, Partisan Balance, is no exception to that rule.
— Matthew Yglesias
Books & Culture
Armed with impressive datasets and thoughtful analysis, Mayhew makes the case that our constitutional system usually works the way that we want it to work. . . . Mayhew is well respected by his peers, and Partisan Balance reminds the reader why he is such a trusted voice in political science. . . . Readers wanting explanation and evidence for why the U.S. Constitution and the political system it established remain robust and vibrant will find many rewards in Mayhew's latest book.
Choice
In this work, Mayhew pursues the question of whether presidential requests are affected by persistent partisan biases of the Senate and the House. . . . This is an analysis of particular interest to those concerned about the dynamics of presidential-congressional interactions over legislation since WWII.
Political Science Quarterly
Typical of a David Mayhew contribution, this book is detailed and meticulous in its analysis, impeccably written and argued, and provides a range of thoughtful, provocative, and counter-intuitive claims. It is a worthy addition to Mayhew's esteemed cannon.
— Paul Frymer
Matthew Yglesias blog - Matthew Yglesias
Any time you read something David Mayhew has written, you end up learning something. His latest book, Partisan Balance, is no exception to that rule.
Political Science Quarterly - Paul Frymer
Typical of a David Mayhew contribution, this book is detailed and meticulous in its analysis, impeccably written and argued, and provides a range of thoughtful, provocative, and counter-intuitive claims. It is a worthy addition to Mayhew's esteemed cannon.
Congress & the Presidency - Roger H. Davidson
[Mayhew's] data set is quite rich, providing insights and posing issues that should keep political historians busy for some time.
From the Publisher
Winner of the 2011 Leon D. Epstein Outstanding Book Award, Political Organizations and Parties Section of the American Political Science Association

"Any time you read something David Mayhew has written, you end up learning something. His latest book, Partisan Balance, is no exception to that rule."—Matthew Yglesias, Matthew Yglesias blog

"Armed with impressive datasets and thoughtful analysis, Mayhew makes the case that our constitutional system usually works the way that we want it to work. . . . Mayhew is well respected by his peers, and Partisan Balance reminds the reader why he is such a trusted voice in political science. . . . Readers wanting explanation and evidence for why the U.S. Constitution and the political system it established remain robust and vibrant will find many rewards in Mayhew's latest book."—Books & Culture

"In this work, Mayhew pursues the question of whether presidential requests are affected by persistent partisan biases of the Senate and the House. . . . This is an analysis of particular interest to those concerned about the dynamics of presidential-congressional interactions over legislation since WWII."—Choice

"Typical of a David Mayhew contribution, this book is detailed and meticulous in its analysis, impeccably written and argued, and provides a range of thoughtful, provocative, and counter-intuitive claims. It is a worthy addition to Mayhew's esteemed cannon."—Paul Frymer, Political Science Quarterly

"[Mayhew's] data set is quite rich, providing insights and posing issues that should keep political historians busy for some time."—Roger H. Davidson, Congress & the Presidency

"What makes the book an enjoyable read is the care with which Mayhew outlines the fare of each proposal, his almost stream-of-consciousness discussion of how to handle methodological conundrums and ambiguous results, and his crisp conclusions once all avenues have been exhausted. . . . This author's work usually leads me to more questions than answers, but this is of course a sign of a stimulating book."—Robin Kolodny, Perspectives on Politics

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Product Details

Meet the Author


David R. Mayhew is Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University. His books include "Congress: The Electoral Connection", "Divided We Govern", and "Electoral Realignments".
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix Acknowledgments xi Introduction xiii CHAPTER 1: The Electoral Bases 1
CHAPTER 2: President and Congress 34
CHAPTER 3: House and Senate I 80
CHAPTER 4: House and Senate II 121
CHAPTER 5: Reform 165
APPENDIX: Sources for Presidential Proposals 191
Index 215

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