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The Politics of U.S. National Park Unit Creation: The Influence of Electoral Competition, Political Control, and Presidential Election Years

Tiffany Espinosa, Jerry J. Vaske, Maureen P. Donnelly

Abstract


Conservation invokes a range of policy issues including questions of economics, recreation, public good, stewardship, and governance obligations. When U.S. legislators consider creating new National Park units, interrelated policy issues influence decisions about whether to support or oppose a new site. In this article, we explored the influence of electoral competition, political party in control, and presidential election year on the number of new National Park units created between 1934 and 2014. Electoral competition theory hypothesizes that as the congressional majority margin decreases (gets more competitive), politicians act in more strategic and less partisan ways. In this analysis, high electoral competition occurred if the party in power had less than a 55% majority; low electoral competition was defined as a 55% or more majority. Three conditions of political control were also examined: (a) Democrats controlled the Presidency and the House, (b) Republicans controlled the Presidency and the House, and (c) shared party control (one party controlled the Presidency and the other party controlled the House). The effect that presidential election years had on the number of new park units created was also considered. Results indicated that more park units were created during periods of low electoral competition (M = 5.00) than high electoral competition (M = 2.04), F (1, 79) = 7.24, p = .009, η = .084 (Hypothesis 1). In addition, there was evidence of partisanship (Hypothesis 2). When Democrats controlled both the Presidency and the House, an average of 5.55 new park units were created annually. When political control was shared, an average of 3.34 park units were created per year, and when Republicans were in control only one park unit on average was created annually, F (2, 78) = 3.54, p = .034, η = .289. More park units were created in presidential election years (M = 5.02), than nonpresidential election years (M = 2.06), F (1, 74) = 2.32, p = .024, η = .259 (Hypothesis 3). There was no evidence of interaction effects among the variables (contrary to Hypothesis 4). This research contributes to the existing literature on the development and growth of the National Park System by analyzing the role of electoral competition, political control, and presidential election years as they effect the creation of new National Park units.

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Keywords


electoral competition; legislative behavior; National Parks; presidential elections; strategic voting

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18666/JPRA-2017-V35-I3-7768

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