Manufactured responsiveness: The impact of state electoral laws on unified party control of the presidency and house of representatives, 1840-1940

  • Engstrom E
  • Kernell S
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Abstract

The modern history of divided government in America suggests that the framers succeeded in creating a government un- responsive to popular passions. Yet in the nineteenth century the party winning the presidency almost always captured control of the House of Representatives. Why and how could nineteenth century national elections be so responsive that they resemble parliamentary outcomes? We identify electoral institutions present in the states that directly linked congres- sional elections to presidential coattails. Specifically, we estimate the impact of state ballot laws and the strategic design of congressional districts on presidential coattail voting from 1840 to 1940. We find that presidential elections, as mediated by state electoral laws, strongly account for unified party control of the House and the presidency throughout the nineteenth century.

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Authors

  • Erik J. Engstrom

  • Samuel Kernell

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