American Political Science Review

Out of Step, Out of Office: Electoral Accountability and House Members' Voting

a1 Assistant Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science, California Institute of Technology, Division of Humanities and Social Sciences 228-77, Pasadena, CA 91125 (
a2 Professor of Political Science, Standford University and Fellow, The Hoover Institution, 241 Littlefield, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5015 (
a3 Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution and Professor of Public Policy, Standford University, HHMB Room 347, Stanford, CA 94305-6010 (


Does a typical House member need to worry about the electoral ramifications of his roll-call decisions? We investigate the relationship between incumbents' electoral performance and roll-call support for their party—controlling for district ideology, challenger quality, and campaign spending, among other factors—through a series of tests of the 1956–1996 elections. The tests produce three key findings indicating that members are indeed accountable for their legislative voting. First, in each election, an incumbent receives a lower vote share the more he supports his party. Second, this effect is comparable in size to that of other widely recognized electoral determinants. Third, a member's probability of retaining office decreases as he offers increased support for his party, and this relationship holds for not only marginal, but also safe members.