Mayhew's (1974) thesis regarding the “electoral connection” and its impact on legislative behavior has become the theoretical foundation for much of the research on the contemporary U.S. Congress. Recently, scholars have begun to suggest that the Mayhewian electoral incentive may apply to politics in earlier congressional eras as well. To assess these claims more systematically, we consider four conditions that serve as the building blocks of the electoral connection—ambition, autonomy, responsiveness, and accountability. Through a detailed review of the literature on electoral politics in Congress, we discover that all four conditions were present in a strict sense as far back as the Progressive Era. Moreover, considerable evidence suggests that a weaker, less formalized version of the electoral connection existed even earlier in American history. We conclude by briefly discussing the implications of these findings on the rapidly growing literature examining the historical and institutional evolution of Congress.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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