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A note on seniority and political competition

Listed author(s):
  • Randall Holcombe

Seniority conveys political power to legislators despite the fact that all legislators have equally valuable voting power. What prevents a coalition of junior members from exercising their political power to form a coalition and claim an equal share of the power by eliminating the benefits of seniority? Several models explain how valuable services are supplied by senior members, so the returns to seniority may be looked at as compensation for their services. This still does not explain why the providers of those services should be chosen based on seniority rather than on some other criterion. Seniority is used because it provides benefits to every member of the legislature. Legislators want to be reelected, and regardless of the seniority level of an individual in the legislature, the incumbent will always have more seniority when running for reelection than the challenger. Since voters benefit from being represented by more senior representatives, the seniority system enhances the reelection chances of even the most junior representative. This argument implies that the most significant dimension of political competition is between incumbents and nonincumbents. There is a tendency to view political competition as between parties since on election day a member of one party will be opposed by a member of another party, but this obscures the actual nature of the competition. As revealed by their actions, incumbents are more closely allied with other incumbents in a different party than with their own party members who are challenging those other incumbents. Were this not so, members of the minority party would favor a weakening of the seniority system in order to enhance the party's opportunity to replace incumbents and become the majority party. Thus, understanding why the seniority system is a stable political institution also lends insight into the nature of political competition. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

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Article provided by Springer in its journal Public Choice.

Volume (Year): 61 (1989)
Issue (Month): 3 (June)
Pages: 285-288

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Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:61:y:1989:i:3:p:285-288
DOI: 10.1007/BF00123891
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  1. Weingast, Barry R & Marshall, William J, 1988. "The Industrial Organization of Congress; or, Why Legislatures, Like Firms, Are Not Organized as Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(1), pages 132-163, February.
  2. Randall Holcombe, 1980. "Contractarian model of the decline in classical liberalism," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 35(3), pages 277-286, January.
  3. Kenneth Koford, 1982. "Centralized vote-trading," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 39(2), pages 245-268, January.
  4. Crain, W Mark, 1977. "On the Structure and Stability of Political Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 85(4), pages 829-842, August.
  5. Weingast, Barry R & Shepsle, Kenneth A & Johnsen, Christopher, 1981. "The Political Economy of Benefits and Costs: A Neoclassical Approach to Distributive Politics," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 89(4), pages 642-664, August.
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