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Objective. This article explores the politics of cultural conflict in the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-1998) by analyzing legislator decision making on reproductive issues. Because reproductive policies represent a major contemporary cultural cleavage between feminists and religious traditionalists, decision making should be influenced by elite- and district-level variables reflective of culture. Methods. Pro-choice support scores are derived and, using OLS, are regressed on elite- and district-level cultural and noncultural variables. Results. Republican partisanship and elite ideological and religious conservatism produce low levels of support for Pro-choice reproductive policies. Conclusions. Cultural theory is a useful lens through which to view congressional politics. In the area of reproductive policy, legislator decision making is influenced by an array of cultural considerations.
In the 20th century, the U.S. Congress emerged as a battlefield on which cultural conflicts were fought. Over the course of the century, Congress impinged on the autonomy of state governments by forming national policy on issues such as women's suffrage, prohibition, and civil rights for African Americans. These issues represented conflicts of culture. Although there is scholarly disagreement about the definition of culture, this article proceeds on the assumption that a culture provides citizens with a "moral order" (Wuthnow, 1987)-a shared sense of how people ought to live their lives and what preferred social relationships are most compatible with that vision. In the words of Leege et al., "[c]utural conflict is simply an argument about how we should live" (2002:37). As competing cultures make demands on government to institutionalize and legitimate their values and preferred social relationships, cultural differences are transformed into political conflicts (Wildavsky, 1987).
Competing cultures increasingly make demands on Congress. This trend is a function of three developments. First, in the 20th century; Congress and the courts redefined federalism such that national government became more involved in policy areas traditionally reserved to the states (Mooney, 2000). Second, the emergence of postmaterial values in the latter half of the 20th century produced a new set of policy issues dealing with feminism, sexuality; and environmentalism (Inglehart, 1991; Lowi, 1998), which lent themselves to cultural conflict. Finally, because cultural issues tend to be nontechnical and highly salient with constituents, they are easily forced onto the legislative agenda.
The confluence of these factors suggests that the U.S. Congress may be an arena of broad cultural conflict where legislators are not just negotiating instrumental policy goals but are fundamentally framing politics. This article explores the politics of cultural conflict in the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-1998) by analyzing legislator decision making on reproductive issues. Reproductive issues represent one of the dominant cultural cleavages of the post-New-Deal era--the conflict between religious traditionalism and the growth of feminism (Leege et al., 2002). On this issue Congress has been asked to legitimate these contending cultural positions (Oldmixon,' 2001).
Cultural issues such as reproductive policy may present a unique challenge to Congress because the ability of opposing parties to compromise is severely limited and Congress is an institution designed to compromise. By examining legislator decision making on reproductive issues, this article explores the way legislators cope with cultural conflicts and, more broadly, the House's ability to manage highly salient issues lacking cultural consensus. Ultimately, this article finds that decision making on reproductive policies is strongly influenced by an array of cultural indicators. Elite-level cultural considerations, in particular, seem to affect decision making. This suggests that cultural theory is a useful theoretical lens through which to view the institutional politics of reproductive policy. More importantly, it suggests that legislator decision making on reproductive issues may give way to an absolutist politics that Congress is ill equipped to resolve.
Legislator decision making varies by policy domain (Clausen, 1973). Cultural issues--also known as morality policy issues, social regulatory issues, or culture war issues--may constitute a distinct policy domain (Lowi, 1998; Meier, 1994). Much of the literature that explores this domain focuses on the state and local governments, since a great deal of cultural regulation takes place at those levels (Button, Rienzo, and Wald, 1997; Fairbanks, 1977; Haeberle, 1996; Haider-Markel, 1998; Meier, 1994; Meier and Johnson, 1990; Meier and McFarland, 1993; Mooney and Lee, 1995, 2000; Morgan and Meier, 1980; Sharp, 1999; Wald, Button, and Rienzo, 1996, 2001). This article focuses on the national government, and it builds on the national literature (Adams, 1997; Haider-Markel 1999, 2001; Peltzman, 1984; Steiner, 1983; Tatalovich and Schier, 1993; Vinovskis, 1980; Wattier and Tatalovich, 1995) in important ways. First, this article includes distinct district-level cultural and socioeconomic indicators, which allows for a direct assessment of the impact of both on support for pro-choice reproductive policies. Haider-Markel (1999, 2001) includes a composite indicator of cultural and socioeconomic tendencies. In doing so he sacrifices his ability to isolate the cultural and socioeconomic processes at work in the development of cultural policy. Second, this analysis considers congressional actions such as bill co-sponsorship and office policy, rather than relying exclusively on roll-call votes as an indicator of legislator decision making. The roll-call vote is just one (albeit important) aspect of the legislative process. A more holistic approach allows us to consider legislator decision making in areas not controlled by leadership or influenced by rules and committees.
Finally, this article addresses a different question than its predecessors. Scholars have studied the abortion politics in the context of institutions for some years. Some have explored the comparative importance of ideology and party (Tatalovich and Schier, 1993; Peltzman, 1984; Vinovskis, 1980; Wattier and Tatalovich, 1995). Others have tried to determine whether legislators are trustees or delegates (Norrander and Wilcox, 2001). Adams (1997) explored the development of party polarization on abortion issues, and Davidson (1983) addressed the extent to which abortion politics …