• American Politics

    • Political Institutions

    • Legislative Politics

    • Policy Processes

    • Interest Groups

  • Political Methodology

    • Network Analysis

    • Text as Data

    • Time Series Analysis

    • Event History


Cue-Taking in Congress: Interest Group Signals from Dear Colleague Letters
with Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier and Dino P. Christenson
American Journal of Political Science, Vol 63, No. 1, January 2019, pp. 163-180

Why do some pieces of legislation move forward while others languish?  We address this fundamental question by examining the role of interest groups in Congress, specifically the effect of their legislative endorsements in Dear Colleague letters. These letters provide insights into the information that members use to both influence and make policy decisions. We demonstrate that endorsements from particularly well-connected interest groups are a strong cue for members with limited information early in the legislative process and help grow the list of bill cosponsors.  As bills progress, such groups have less direct weight, while legislation supported by a larger number of organizations and a larger number of cosponsors is more likely to pass. Thus, we illuminate the usage of Dear Colleague letters in Congress, demonstrate how members use interest groups in the legislative process, and shed new light on the varying impact of groups on public policy.  

Book Project

Collaborative Policymaking in the United States Congress

Is there a benefit to working well with others in Congress? Many of the bills introduced are written not only by the single member listed as its sponsor, but by a coalition of representatives who have worked together to author mutually agreeable language. Similarly, members frequently collaborate with colleagues in writing policy letters, running caucuses, and hosting events. Yet there is very little understanding of the nature of these relationships, or how members of Congress benefit from them, as data availability has limited the ability of legislative politics scholars to estimate their impact. Using a unique dataset of Dear Colleague letters, which are an essential communication tool in the modern Congress, I identify the members who collaborate on policy initiatives in a substantive manner. I use these data to map the policy collaboration network of the House of Representatives to answer three key questions that will greatly improve our understanding of congressional behavior and the legislative process: 1) How do members of Congress choose their collaborative partners? 2) What are the legislative benefits of collaboration? 3) What are the electoral benefits of collaboration? 

Working Papers

Governing Through Gridlock: Bill Composition Under Divided Government

What is the effect of divided government on how members spend their time in state legislatures? Much of the research on the effects of divided government examines how it affects the enactment of significant legislation but does not consider other effects on legislative behavior. In this paper, I propose an alternate view of the relationship between divided government and legislative activity. Regardless of partisan control, reelection-minded legislators face pressure to deliver benefits to voters, yet divided government can make substantive policy change difficult. As a result of these competing pressures, under divided government legislators increasingly turn their focus to bills that benefit their local constituents, which are easier to enact and allow them to engage in advertising, credit claiming, and position taking. In a comparative study of bill introductions in state legislatures over seven sessions, I find that under divided government, legislators introduce bills at the same rate but the type of legislation introduced shifts so that there are more district-specific bills and fewer statewide policy changes introduced. 

The Role of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Congressional Cosponsorship Network  
with Skyler J. Cranmer, Bruce A. Desmarais, Christopher J. Clark and Vincent G. Moscardelli

Previous research indicates that race, ethnicity, and gender influence legislative behavior in important ways. The bulk of this research, however, focuses on the way these characteristics shape an individual legislator's behavior, making it less clear how they account for relationships between legislators. We study the cosponsorship process in order to understand the race and gender based dynamics underlying the relational component of representation. Using a temporal exponential random graph model, we examine the U.S. House cosponsorship network from 1981 through 2004. We find that Black and Latino members of Congress are at a comparative disadvantage as a result of race-based assortative mixing in the cosponsorship process, yet this disadvantage is mitigated by the electoral pressures that all members face. Members representing districts with significant racial and ethnic minority populations are more likely to support their minority colleagues. We also find that women members do not appear to face a similar disadvantage as a result of their minority status. We argue that these race and gender dynamics in the cosponsorship network are the result of both the inherent tendency towards intra-group homophily in social networks and the electoral connection, which is manifested here as members supporting minority colleagues to broaden their own electoral base of support among minority constituencies.

The Room Where it Happens: Collaborative Strategies in the U.S. House of Representatives

Members of Congress frequently collaborate with colleagues on legislation, but these collaborative relationships have received little attention in the literature. Is collaboration more likely to occur as a result of homophily between members or interdependent relationships in Congress? Are members more likely to seek out ideologically similar partners or reach across the aisle for a collaborator? With a new dataset of congressional Dear Colleague letters sent over a period of six Congresses, I identify the members of Congress who collaborate with each other on legislation in a substantive and purposive manner and connect them in a network of policy collaboration. Using an exponential random graph model (ERGM) on the resulting network, I ex- amine how members of Congress use these collaborative relationships to advance their agenda in a difficult legislative landscape. I find evidence of several distinctive collaborative patterns, including a strong tendency towards bipartisan collaboration in a highly polarized Congress, an overall inclination towards homophily, and a network where personal relationships are key. I argue these patterns are the result of members using collaboration with colleagues to find common ground, even in a highly polarized Congress, in order to advance their agenda. 

The Secret to Senate Holds: Historical Analysis and Quantification of the Impact of Holds  
with Janet M. Box-Steffensmeier and Ross Butters

There are many forms of obstruction in the United States Senate, but some are less public than others.  A Senate Hold is an effective and critical component of the modern Congress.  A senator can place an anonymous hold on any piece of legislation or nomination before the Senate by informing their party leader.  A hold will stop or kill a bill or nomination and may be used to leverage concessions.  This project examines the procedural innovation of the hold by Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1950s.  Our research has uncovered the earliest available data on the use of Senate holds from the archive of Senate leader Lyndon Johnson, which is in contrast to the conventional wisdom, which states that holds began much later in the 1970s.  The record and logic shows that holds developed under Johnson as a way to manage legislation being passed under unanimous consent agreements.  We provide insightful historical information about the development of Senate holds and compare the usage and impact of holds.  The use of holds for the operation of the Senate is important for examining questions of fairness, efficiency and majority/minority rights. 

Working papers available upon request.