Voice and Balancing in US Congressional Elections
By Till Weber, Baruch College
If the median voter wrote the Constitution, every Tuesday would be Election Day. Consider the case of the United States: Halfway into a presidential term, congressional elections allow the people to adjust the course of federal policy. Two complementary mechanisms describe how this opportunity is embraced by centrists: a direct mechanism, which strengthens the out-party in Congress to “balance” the president’s policy impact, and an indirect mechanism, by which midterm voting serves to “voice” dissatisfaction as a signal to the president. A model of repeated elections unites the two mechanisms: whereas midterm balancing reacts to the preceding presidential election, midterm voice anticipates the following one. Using micro and macro data for all House elections from 1956 through 2018, I show that balancing and voice work hand in hand: it is those voters with both policy incentives who contribute most to the notorious “midterm loss,” and particularly so under circumstances that make balancing more necessary and voice more promising. Yet although policy-oriented behavior typically restrains dominant parties, it may also cushion the fall of unpopular administrations. Centrists can be creative.