Alt Title

Frozen at four hundred thiry five;Frozen at four thirty five

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Burrell, Barbara C., 1947-

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of Political Science


United States. Congress. House--History; United States. Congress. House--Election districts--History; Representative government and representation--United States--History


The United States House of Representatives has been frozen at 435 members for almost a century. Notwithstanding the remarkable durability of this alignment, in its first century of existence, the U.S. House experienced a virtually uninterrupted string of decennial increases in its membership. This dissertation documents the historical development of the size of the U.S. House by highlighting specific debates over how many seats should be apportioned for the nation’s lower chamber at various points in U.S. history, starting with debate at the Constitutional Convention until contemporary times. This debate revolved around a tradeoff between representation and legislative efficiency. In deciding to permanently cap the size of the House, lawmakers determined that continued increases would undermine legislative operations in the institution. Since opting for this policy course there has been no external or internal impetus to consider further enlargements. The major consequence of refusing to increase the size of the body is that the average number of citizens each House member represents has risen dramatically in the subsequent decades. While not encompassing the largest constituency size in the world, U.S. House districts are noticeably more populous than legislative districts in other democratic countries. This growth in constituency population size actually injects more competition in House elections, but not enough to increase the probability incumbents will be defeated. However, most of the evidence presented in this study indicates that an expanding constituency size has negatively impacted representation. District constituency size is negatively related to the probability citizens will have contact with and approve of their House member. Furthermore, it is also reduces the likelihood citizens will perceive that their House members are helpful and that they keep in touch with the district. Members representing more populous districts are more likely to compile extreme voting records and diverge from median voter in the policy representation they provide. Despite its negative consequences for representation, maintaining the 435 seat limit on the size of the House is a policy that draws broad support among citizens in the general population. Survey results compiled for this study show that the U.S. public does not support an increase to improve the overall quality of representation House members provide, to prevent states from losing seats or to enhance descriptive representation for women and minorities. Therefore, the paradoxical conclusion of this study is that maintaining the 435 seat limit on the size of the House has made the institution less representative but that it also represents a policy that is generally supported by the American people.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [244]-263).


xi, 266 pages




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