Partisanship and Electoral Reform: Change in Congressional Cohesion, 1877-1932


Rick K. Wilson

Rice University

Explanations for the decline of partisanship in the early part of the 20th century are at odds. The received wisdom holds that a set of electoral reforms led Congressmen to break their partisan ties, engaging in more familiar modes of personalistic behavior. This view has recently been challenged noting that the bulk of the reforms passed in the Populist and Progressive periods eliminated factional strife within parties and led to increased partisanship. This paper looks at a wide variety of reforms introduced in a 40 year period. While a set of early ballot reforms did result in increased levels of state delegation partisanship, subsequent reforms, combined with the passage of time, undermined partisan strength in the U.S. House of Representatives.