Public opinion regarding congressional leaders: Lessons from the 1996 elections

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Using data from a 1996 pre-election survey, the causes and consequences of public approval of Republican congressional leaders in the 1990s are examined. Specifically, this article explores the extent of opinion formation regarding House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and then attempts to account for the sources of these attitudes using multivariate models. Comparing and contrasting these findings as appropriate with what is known regarding public attitudes toward other political entities, the article reveals in particular that economic evaluations work differently for congressional leaders than for either the president or Congress as an institution. In a second section, the electoral ramifications of public attitudes toward Speaker Gingrich in the1996 elections are examined, determining that even in the presence of a host of powerful controls public evaluations of the speaker exercised a significant influence on respondents' vote choice, not just in congressional races also far down-ticket, a finding that supports a party-oriented model of legislative organisation. The paper concludes with some thoughts on the ability of these results to be generalised.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Political Science, University of Missouri, Columbia

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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