Center for Effective Lawmaking

The Book

Starting with the premise that some members of Congress are more effective as lawmakers than are others, Volden and Wiseman develop Legislative Effectiveness Scores for each member of the U.S. House from the early 1970s through the present. They showcase how this measure, and the study of effective lawmaking more generally, sheds new light on the most important topics of legislative politics, including: how parties influence legislative policymaking, the strategies that women and African Americans adopt in Congress to promote their policy goals, and how entrepreneurial lawmakers can develop issue expertise to overcome party polarization and policy gridlock. 

Ultimately focusing on the twenty most effective representatives of the past 40 years, Volden and Wiseman identify a collection of strategies and habits that legislators can use to become effective lawmakers, and discuss how American voters can focus on legislative effectiveness to promote a better democracy.

– Winner, 2015 Fenno Prize for the best book in legislative studies
– Winner, 2015 Gladys M. Kammerer Award for the best book on U.S. National Policy
– Finalist, 2015 Brown Democracy Medal

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Reviews for
Legislative Effectiveness in the United States Congress: The Lawmakers

“This groundbreaking research shows the value of having more women in Congress. Among other important findings, Volden and Wiseman clearly show that women more effectively build coalitions across party lines and focus more directly on getting things done. That has certainly been my experience throughout the past two decades, and it reinforces what I’ve said all along: we need more women in public office. The answer to the partisan gridlock that currently plagues congress can be found in a very simple question: where are the women?”
Carolyn Maloney
United States Representative (Democrat–New York)
“Assessing the quality of our elected representatives is a fundamental problem in democratic politics. In this outstanding book, Volden and Wiseman develop an innovative new measure for legislator effectiveness that provides important insights into the types of members who are successful and into the role of political institutions in influencing who is likely to be effective.”
Eric Schickler
Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley
“In their excellent book, Volden and Wiseman explore the determinants of variation in legislative effectiveness among members of the US House of Representatives, as well as the consequences of legislative effectiveness for the policy process in Congress…Volden and Wiseman make a major contribution to our understanding of the determinants and effects of legislative effectiveness; they help us to understand a policy process at the national level in the United States that has been characterized by gridlock and polarization…Reframing the work of Congress from gridlock and party polarization to legislative effectiveness in the hands of capable lawmakers, Volden and Wiseman shine a hopeful light on the study of nation’s first branch of government.”
Citation for Gladys M. Kammer Award (given annually by the American Political Science Association for the best book published during the previous calendar year in the field of U.S. National Policy)
“Why are some legislators more effective than others? How and why does lawmaking prowess matter? In this innovative and convincing new book, Volden and Wiseman offer a deep and impressive dive into the concept and measurement of legislative effectiveness. The analysis is crisp and creative, and it will force students of Congress to think more systematically about the motivations and talents that underpin lawmakers’ contributions on Capitol Hill.”
Sarah Binder
George Washington University and Brookings Institution
"All in all, in this important book, Volden and Wiseman bring to life a neglected aspect of congressional behavior: each member’s capacity to shepherd his or her bill(s) through the legislative process. In the end, their legislative effectiveness score represents an important lens through which to assess how Congress works (or does not)."
Jordan M. Ragusa
Political Science Quarterly
“Much of the research on the US Congress focuses on the voting records of legislators and what these records say about partisanship and ideology. Aggregated as the final records of legislative activity, these voting patterns point to partisanship and, increasingly, to legislative gridlock. Volden and Wiseman turn the focus away from roll call votes and toward a more holistic view of the legislative process. In doing so, they not only spur forward a new research agenda, but they offer a somewhat more optimistic account of legislative politics.”
Laurel Harbridge
Journal of Politics
"Highly recommended"
"Professors Volden and Wiseman have devised by far the most credible measure of effectiveness to date. The insights they draw from examining it elucidate much that had been hidden or underappreciated about the workings of the legislative process in the House. The findings they report will not only work their way into lectures in every course on Congress, but will do much to drive future research on how decisions are made in the House."
Peverill Squire
Congress & the Presidency
“By devising and applying a thoughtful new measure of legislative effectiveness, this landmark study fundamentally recasts methodological individualism. Members of Congress are certainly single-minded seekers of re-election. But they are also lawmakers. The elegance of Volden and Wiseman’s reframing will change how we view Congress and parliamentary skill – and quite possibly restore our faith in Congress. Their book richly deserves a place in undergraduate and graduate courses on Congress, leadership, and methods.”
Rick Valelly
Claude C. Smith ’14 Professor of Political Science, Swarthmore College
"The book is engaging and accessible, appropriate not only for political scientists but also for anyone interested in the connections between individual members and the policy outcomes produced in Congress, including graduate and undergraduate students."
Joshua Ryan
Perspectives on Politics
"Volden and Wiseman have recast old debates in a new light and opened new and diverse trajectories for future research. The book will be of great interest to legislative scholars and students of American politics more generally."
Douglas L. Kriner
Party Politics
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