Publication Date



While the link between presidential approval and congressional election outcomes is long established, scholars have generally ignored the role of a member’s own voting record in mediating these effects. If voters truly use the congressional ballot to express support or opposition toward the President, then they should not reward or punish all of his fellow partisans equally. Instead, the degree of reward or punishment meted out by voters ought to depend on the member’s level of support for the president’s legislative initiatives. Using data from the 1993, 1994, and 1996 National Election Studies, we demonstrate two key points: that representatives’ actual levels of support for the president are the single greatest predictor of their perceived levels of presidential support, and that perceived levels of presidential support interact powerfully with citizen presidential approval to shape attitudes toward congressional incumbents. These effects dwarf simple partisan heuristics in explaining congressional vote choice, suggesting that citizens are much more discriminating than is typically assumed in using the congressional vote as a referendum on presidential policy.

Document Type



congressional elections, presidential support, roll-call voting


American Politics


26 pages




Paul Gronke, Paul; Koch, Jeffrey; Wilson, J. Matthew, "Follow the Leader? Presidential Approval, Presidential Support, and Representatives' Electoral Fortunes" (August 2003). The Journal of Politics, vol. 65, no. 3, pp. 785-808.