What are the different Home styles?

September 25, 2011
Contemporary Austin Home

From WikiSummary, the Free Social Science Summary Database

American Politics

  • Bureaucracy
  • Congress: Elections
  • Congress: Parties
  • Ideological Traditions
  • Presidency
  • Voting
  • Voter Sophistication
  • Voter Turnout

Fenno. 1978. Home style: House members in their districts.

In Brief

Fenno seeks to answer one overriding question: How does an elected representative's view of his/her constituency affect his or her political behavior? To answer this, he first identifies what an MC's (Member of Congress) goals are; second, he explains the various ways that an MC might view his or her constituency; and third, he shows how these views affect the MC's political behavior.

MCs have three goals: Re-election, power in Congress, and good public policy (p 137; see also Fenno 1977). This book is about how members adopt a "home style" to help them secure the first goal (re-election), which in turn makes attainment of the other goals possible. If members have the trust of their constituencies-and such trust is central to Fenno's story-then it will be easier for them to explain and justify the decisions that they make on Capitol Hill in pursuit of policy goals and power.

In explaining how MCs cultivate trust among their constituents, Fenno focuses on what representatives do in their districts rather than in Washington. He tries to identify the "home styles" that each MC uses to get re-elected as well as their perceptions of their constituency. Fenno argues that Congressmen view their constituencies in four shrinking concentric circles:

  • The broadest circle is that of the geographic district, encompassing all potential voters and regions;
  • The next circle consists of the electoral supporters-"who is likely to vote for me?";
  • The next circle is the primary supporters-"who is actually going to do work for me?";
  • The smallest circle is the candidate's intimates-family, close friends, and trusted advisers.

Fenno calls these the geographic, reelection, primary, and personal constituencies.


Fenno accompanied several MCs as they traveled about their districts. Through this in-depth, qualitative experience, he draws conclusions inductively about the various home styles MCs employ.

Four constituencies

MCs see the district in four concentric circles: the geographic constituency, the re-election constituency, the primary constituency, and the personal constituency. MCs have different strategies for each of these groups. Every MC has a strategy for who they are and how they fit in with the constituency. They seek a comfort level, but it takes some time to establish a relationship with constituents. This is one reason for the incumbency advantage: they have already invested the time and resources for this and challengers have not.

Home style

Home styles should be consistent and continually reinforced. An inconsistent home style will not produce a solid image to constituents. A home style has three components: presentation of self (following Goffman 1959), allocation of resources, and explanation of Washington activities.


The goal is to gain trust (56). There are three main strategies to gain trust: qualification, identification ("I am one of you"), and empathy ("I understand you and think like you do"). Again, trust is the key because it allows members leeway on the hill. If we think of it in principal-agent (P-A) terms, the P trusts that the A is not shirking because they share similar values. Since the A is "one of you, " he will not lose touch. The P has selected the A wisely. Since the P trusts the A, he doesn't have to monitor so closely. So trust is useful for managing the P-A relationship from the standpoint of the agent.

Source: wikisum.com
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