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July 5, 1995

MEMO TO: NES User Community and Other Interested Social Scientists

FROM: Charles H. Franklin

RE: Research and Development Conference on Congressional Elections Research

In the early spring of 1996, the National Election Studies will convene a Research and Development Conference on Congressional Elections Research. I am writing on behalf of the NES Board of Overseers to invite scholars interested in campaigns, elections, and representation to help evaluate the state of Congressional elections research and to advise on the theoretical and substantive priorities that should be the focus of future investigations into Congressional (and perhaps other kinds of) elections. You need not be a specialist on Congressional elections to participate in the Conference; social scientists with expertise in campaigns, the media, or advertising also might well contribute to these deliberations.

As a laboratory to study democratic choice, elections, and campaigns, Congressional elections offer an unparalleled opportunity. Compared to presidential contests, Congressional elections offer far more variation: in resources; in candidate quality and ideology; and in campaign visibility, style, tactics, and strategies.

Since its inception, NES has tried to exploit these opportunities by investing heavily in the study of Congressional elections. The 1978 National Election Study marked a watershed in the study of Congressional elections by introducing new batteries of survey items that set in motion an avalanche of research on incumbency, casework, representation, accountability, and election finance. When it was recognized that the absence of appropriate data had left the scholarship on Senate elections impoverished, NES embarked on the 1988-90-92 Senate Election Study, a data collection hand-tailored to the special characteristics and theoretical opportunities presented by elections to the U.S. Senate. Scholarship that has relied upon the NES Senate Election Study has specified the ways in which voting decision in U.S. Senate elections both resemble and differ from choices made in other federal elections; has specified the ways that Senate campaigns affect voter choice; and has traced the interactions between citizens and their Senators over the course of the six-year election cycle.

It is time to take stock of these efforts and to begin to shape the agenda for where we should go next. To this end, the NES Board of Overseers will convene a Research and Development Conference on Congressional Elections Research to be held in the early spring of 1996 (exact date and location to be announced later). The conference is designed to be a vehicle for involving the NES user community and other interested social scientists in critically assessing the utility of existing NES instrumentation and study designs and shaping the innovations and improvements that should be made.

The Conference will deal with two related concerns: a theoretical and empirical evaluation of what we have learned since 1978; and a specification of what is needed to advance the study of Congressional elections over the next several election cycles. The Board would welcome your advice on several fronts:

Issues Concerning the Past Issues Concerning the Future

The Board welcomes your advice on these questions (and any others that we haven't thought of). In preparation for the Conference, we invite you to submit a short, 2-3 page, memo addressing any of the above points or new ones which we should think about. Conference participation can take a variety of forms: papers or memos providing theoretical overviews, focused literature reviews, analyses of the measurement properties of existing items, proposals for new items (either replacing existing items or new content), new ideas for study design, applications of ideas from the broader literatures on Congress, campaigns, representation, or democratic theory.

There will likely be other roles at the Conference that will not require a formal paper, but would involve contributing to the task at hand. The format of the conference remains open. If a paper is being offered for presentation at the conference, the paper does not need to be submitted at this time, though a brief description of its content would be appropriate.

The deadline for responding to this memo is September 21, 1995.

Participants for the Conference will be chosen on the basis of the memos submitted to the Board. The Conference program will be set by the end of October.

Please direct your memo to:

Congressional Elections R&D Conference
The National Election Studies
Center for Political Studies / ISR
P.O. Box 1248
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106-1248

You can also reply by e-mail to:

If we can provide any additional information, please feel free to contact any member of the NES Board of Overseers or one of the Principal Investigators.