Center for Effective Lawmaking

Published and Forthcoming Papers

Andrew J. Clarke, Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman, Political Research Quarterly

Clarke, Andrew J., Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2024. “The Conditional Lawmaking Benefits of Party Faction Membership in Congress” Political Research Quarterly (2024), Vol. 77(1) 121–136.

Does joining a party faction in Congress enhance or undermine a member’s lawmaking effectiveness? Prior research suggests that factions can help members electorally in signaling their distinct ideological positions to potential political supporters. By contrast, we examine the nine largest ideological caucuses over the past quarter century to test three hypotheses about the conditional lawmaking benefits of faction membership: (1) that benefits from faction membership are limited to those in the minority party; (2) that members of ideologically centrist factions gain the greatest benefits; and (3) that sizable factions exploit their pivotal positions to help their members achieve legislative victories. We find support for only the first of these three conjectures, consistent with the argument that factions offer valuable resources to those in the minority party and that majority-party leaders counter the proposals arising from their own party’s factions. The fact that faction membership offers no significant lawmaking benefit to majority-party legislators challenges conventional wisdom.

Molly E. Reynolds and Peter C. Hanson, The Forum

Reynolds, Molly E. and Peter C. Hanson. 2023. “Just How Unorthodox? Assessing Lawmaking on Omnibus Spending Bills.” The Forum.

Scholars commonly observe that lawmaking in Congress has transitioned from the textbook system of “regular order” in which power was decentralized in committees and lawmaking followed a formal process to one of “unorthodox lawmaking” characterized by the centralization of power in party leaders and a lack of formal process. It is debated whether this change marks a decline in Congress’s lawmaking capacity, or is a procedural adaptation that has allowed Congress to remain productive despite high levels of partisanship. In this article, we maintain that lawmaking in Congress varies along two dimensions: formality of process and centralization of power. We analyze non-spending bills added to omnibus appropriations packages to demonstrate that lawmaking on these bills is informal and decentralized. Rank-and-file members retain a capacity to place matters on the legislative agenda and authorizing committees retain gatekeeping and policymaking authority. The process through which add-ons are approved is also bipartisan. Our findings demonstrate that this style of lawmaking is a procedural adaptation used by members to pass legislation important to their districts and in which committees continue to play an important deliberative role.

Laurel Harbridge-YongCraig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman,

The Journal of Politics

Harbridge-Yong, Laurel, Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2023. “The Bipartisan Path to Effective Lawmaking.” Journal of Politics.

We confront the puzzle of why bipartisanship is alive and well in Congress, despite notable increases in party polarization and rising primary election threats. The answer is remarkably simple—bipartisanship unambiguously helps individual legislators who seek to advance their policy goals. We show that members of the House and Senate from the 93rd to 114th Congresses (1973–2016) who attract a larger portion of their bill cosponsors from the opposing party are much more successful at lawmaking. We show these patterns to be remarkably robust to both majority-party and minority-party lawmakers, under changing legislative and electoral conditions and over time. Moreover, a clear path to attracting bipartisan cosponsors involves reciprocity, making cosponsoring others’ bills across party lines attractive.

Daniel M. Butler, Adam G. Hughes, Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman, Political Science Research and Methods

Butler, Daniel M., Adam G. Hughes, Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2022. “Do constituents know (or care) about the lawmaking effectiveness of their representatives?” Political Science Research and Methods (2023), 11, 419–428.

Substantial evidence exists that members of the US Congress vary in their lawmaking effectiveness. Less known, however, is whether constituents are sufficiently informed and inclined to hold their representatives accountable, based on their effectiveness. We conduct two separate survey experiments, informing some constituents about lawmakers’ effectiveness and comparing their responses to those with the baseline level of information. We find that voters demonstrate little knowledge of their elected officials’ lawmaking effectiveness. When presented with objective and credible information about lawmaking effectiveness, however, respondents express greater approval of more effective lawmakers. Effects are strongest among ideological moderates, but are even pronounced among partisans, who approve of effective representatives of the opposing party, and disapprove of ineffective representatives from their own party.

Sarah Treul, Danielle M. Thomsen, Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman, The Journal of Politics

Treul, Sarah, Danielle M. Thomsen, Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2022. “The Primary Path for Turning Legislative Effectiveness into Electoral Success.” The Journal of Politics. Volume 84, Number 3.

Effective lawmakers are the workhorses of the US Congress, yet we know little about the electoral payoffs of their efforts. Are effective lawmakers better at warding off challengers in the next election? Do they win at a greater rate? To answer these questions, we draw on original data on congressional primary elections from 1980 to 2016, allowing us to focus on elections that lack partisan cues and where voters tend to be highly knowledgeable about politics. We find that incumbents receive an electoral boost in congressional primaries from their legislative work in Congress. Ineffective lawmakers are more likely to face quality challengers, and they lose their primaries at a greater rate than do more effective lawmakers. These differences diminish in the complex informational environment of a primary with multiple challengers. These findings provide important insights into the conditions under which voters hold their elected representatives accountable for their legislative successes and failures.

Craig Volden, Alan E. Wiseman, & Dana E. Wittmer, Political Science Research and Methods

Volden, Craig, Alan E. Wiseman, and Dana E. Wittmer. 2018. “Women’s Issues and Their Fates in the US Congress.” Political Science Research and Methods. 6(4): 679-696.

Significant scholarship indicates that female legislators focus their attention on “women’s issues” to a greater extent than do male lawmakers. Drawing on over 40 years of bill sponsorship data from the US House of Representatives, we define women’s issues in terms of those sponsored at a greater rate by women in Congress. Our analysis reveals that most (but not all) of the classically considered women’s issues are indeed raised at an enhanced rate by congresswomen. We then track the fate of those issues. While 4 percent of all bills become law, that rate drops to 2 percent for women’s issues and only 1 percent for women’s issue bills sponsored by women themselves. This pattern persists over time – from the early 1970’s through today – and upon controlling for other factors that influence bill success rates. We link the bias against women’s issues to the committee process, and suggest several avenues for further research. 

Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman,
Journal of Politics 

Volden, Craig, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2018. “Legislative Effectiveness in the United States Senate.” Journal of Politics. 80(2): 731-735.  

Drawing on data from 1973-2014 (93rd-113th Congresses), we develop a new method for measuring the legislative effectiveness of members of the United States Senate that builds upon Volden and Wiseman’s analysis of legislative effectiveness in the U.S. House. We compare the construction and analysis of our Senate Legislative Effectiveness Scores (LES) to those of the U. S. House over the same 40-year time-period; and we demonstrate that many of the factors that correlated with a Representative’s legislative effectiveness hold true for U.S. Senators. We likewise demonstrate that Senators who were highly effective lawmakers in the U.S. House continue to be highly effective lawmakers in the U.S. Senate; and we illustrate how the direct impact of majority-party status on legislative effectiveness has vacillated substantially over the past 40 years in the United States Senate.

Matthew P. Hitt, Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman,
American Journal of Political Science

Hitt, Matthew P., Craig Volden, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2017. “Spatial Models of Legislative Effectiveness.” American Journal of Political Science. 61 (3): 575-590.

Spatial models of policymaking have evolved from the median voter theorem to the inclusion of institutional considerations such as committees, political parties, and various voting and amendment rules. Such models, however, implicitly assume that no policy is better than another at solving public policy problems and that all policy makers are equally effective at advancing proposals. We relax these assumptions, allowing some legislators to be more effective than others at creating high-quality proposals. The resulting Legislative Effectiveness Model (LEM) offers three main benefits. First, it can better account for policy changes based on the quality of the status quo, changing our understanding of how to overcome gridlock in polarized legislatures. Second, it generalizes canonical models of legislative politics, such as median voter, setter, and pivotal politics models, all of which emerge as special cases within the LEM. Third, the LEM offers significant new empirical predictions, some of which we test (and find support for) within the U.S. Congress.

Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman,
Congress Reconsidered, 11th Ed

Volden, Craig and Alan E. Wiseman. 2017. “Legislative Effectiveness and Problem Solving in the U.S. House of Representatives.” In Dodd, Lawrence C., and Bruce I. Oppenheimer. Congress Reconsidered, 11th Ed. Washington DC: CQ Press. (pp. 259-284).

Volden and Wiseman (2014) argue that the legislative effectiveness of individual members of Congress is important to understanding the workings of Congress and the laws it produces. In contrast, Adler and Wilkerson (2012) argue that individual members’ effectiveness is of little importance relative to problem solving around the rise and fall of must-pass legislation. In this chapter, we test competing hypotheses that arise from these two perspectives for the activities of committee and subcommittee chairs from 1973 to 2014. Consistent with Legislative Effectiveness and in contrast to the Problem-Solving Perspective, we establish that the Legislative Effectiveness Scores of committee and subcommittee chairs are positively correlated over time and rise along with their expertise. Illustrative cases question the inevitability of the passage of “must-pass” legislation and instead suggest a central role for the effectiveness (and ineffectiveness) of chairs. These findings highlight how institutional changes over the past twenty years have reduced the effectiveness of committee and subcommittee chairs and limited the lawmaking capacity of Congress.

Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman,
Advances in Strategic Management

Volden, Craig and Alan E. Wiseman. 2016. “Incorporating Legislative Effectiveness into Nonmarket Strategy: The Case of Financial Services Reform and the Great Recession.” Advances in Strategic Management. 34: 87-118.

The field of nonmarket strategy has expanded rapidly over the past 20 years to provide theoretical and practical guidance for managers seeking to influence policymaking. Much of this scholarship has built directly on spatial and “pivotal politics” models of lawmaking. While extremely helpful at identifying crucial targets for lobbying, these models treat all policymakers as identical in their abilities to advance legislative agenda items through various policymaking hurdles. We build upon these earlier models, but include policymakers who vary in their relative effectiveness at advancing measures through the legislative process. We identify how the implications of our model deviate from those of conventional (pivotal politics) analyses. We then present an empirical strategy for identifying effective Lawmakers in the United States Congress, and illustrate the utility of this approach for managers developing nonmarket strategies in legislative institutions, relying on the case of banking and financial services reforms between 2008 and 2011.

Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman,
Congress and Policy Making in the 21st Century

Volden, Craig, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2016. “Entrepreneurial Politics, Policy Gridlock, and Legislative Effectiveness.” In J. Jenkins and E.M. Patashnik (eds.), Congress and Policy Making in the 21st Century. New York: Cambridge University Press. (pp. 21-47).

Congress is frequently said to be ‘broken’, ‘dysfunctional’, and ‘weak’, but how does the contemporary Congress really work? Does Congress have the capacity to solve major policy problems? Can it check an aggrandizing executive, oversee a powerful Federal Reserve, and represent the American people? Can Congress cope with vast changes in the American political economy, including rising income inequality? Congress and Policy Making in the 21st Century takes a fresh look at the performance of Congress in the domestic arena, focusing on issues such as immigration, health care, and the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. With original contributions from leading scholars, this important volume examines how Congress tackles – and fails to tackle – key policy challenges in an era of growing social diversity and ideological polarization. Rich in analysis and illuminating detail, the book reveals the full complexity of the institution at work.

Craig Volden, Alan E. Wiseman, and Dana E. Wittmer,
American Journal of Political Science

Volden, Craig, Alan E. Wiseman, and Dana E. Wittmer. 2013. “When are Women More Effective Lawmakers than Men?” American Journal of Political Science. 57(2): 326-341.

Previous scholarship has demonstrated that female lawmakers differ from their male counterparts by engaging more fully in consensus-building activities. We argue that this behavioral difference does not serve women equally well in all institutional settings. Contentious and partisan activities of male lawmakers may help them outperform women when in a polarized majority party. However, in the minority party, while men may choose to obstruct and delay, women continue to strive to build coalitions and bring about new policies. We find strong evidence that minority party women in the U.S. House of Representatives are better able to keep their sponsored bills alive through later stages of the legislative process than are minority party men, across the 93rd-110th Congresses (1973-2008). The opposite is true for majority party women, however, who counterbalance this lack of later success by introducing more legislation. Moreover, while the legislative style of minority party women has served them well consistently across the past four decades, majority party women have become less effective as Congress has become more polarized.

Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman,
Congress Reconsidered, 10th Ed

Volden, Craig, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2012. “Legislative Effectiveness and Representation.”, in Dodd, Lawrence C., and Bruce I. Oppenheimer. Congress Reconsidered, 10th Ed. Washington DC: CQ Press. (pp. 237-264).

While congressional scholars have paid substantial attention to questions of representation, we have devoted relatively little energy to understanding which members of Congress are most effective at lawmaking, and why. In this essay, we advocate an aggressive agenda to incorporate legislative effectiveness more fully into theoretical and empirical examinations of Congress. To facilitate this effort, we develop a method for ranking members of the U.S. House of Representatives in terms of their effectiveness at moving bills through the legislative process, and we apply this method to generate a Legislative Effectiveness Score (LES) for every House member in each of the 93rd-110th Congresses (1973-2008). We examine how a member’s legislative effectiveness arises from different personal and institutional factors, such as the member’s party, her seniority, and whether she holds a committee chair. We identify a complex relationship between a member’s legislative effectiveness and her representational effectiveness, and conclude that future scholarship on Congress must be more centrally focused on legislative effectiveness.

Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman,
Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law

Volden, Craig, and Alan E. Wiseman. 2011. “Breaking Gridlock:The Determinants of Health Policy Change in Congress.”  Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. 36 (2): 227-264.

Prior to the 2010 health care reforms, scholars often commented that health policy making in Congress was mired in political gridlock, that reforms were far more likely to fail than to succeed, and that the path forward was unclear. In light of recent events, new narratives are being advanced. In formulating these assessments, scholars of health politics tend to analyze individual major reform proposals to determine why they succeeded or failed and what lessons could be drawn for the future. Taking a different approach, we examine all health policies proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives between 1973 and 2002. We analyze these bills’ fates and the effectiveness of their sponsors in guiding these proposals through Congress. Setting these proposed policies against a baseline of policy advancements in other areas, we demonstrate that health policy making has indeed been far more gridlocked than policy making in most other areas. We then isolate some of the causes of this gridlock, as well as some of the conditions that have helped to bring about health policy change.

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