In many media and academic accounts, legislators are framed as stubborn policy high demanders, and policymaking as the conflict between fixed, opposing groups. The most divisive issues are given attention, and the loudest, most ideological voices are amplified. Policymaking is a game of zero-sum bargaining, where for one position (or party) to win, the other must lose.
This account seems out of place in many legislatures, particularly in American state legislatures, on many issues. Legislators must decide which of their constituents’ problems to address, and how best to do so, by sponsoring legislation that can pass with broad support. Legislators are, often, genuinely uncertain whether to support or oppose others’ legislation. They hold hearings, meet with constituents and lobbyists, caucus with their copartisans, and deliberate on the house floor. They occasionally change their minds about whether to support or oppose a bill, and they even support bills by members of the opposing party. A great deal of legislating still consists of the nonpartisan, low-profile effort that is necessary to draft bills and build policy coalitions.
My research examines one part of this process: how legislators decide to take positions on policies. In particular, I examine how factors inside the legislature – including information, communication, deliberation, and the institutions that support these activities – affect individual legislators’ revealed policy preferences. My dissertation presents three field experiments, conducted in a legislature with the participation of legislators and staff, that examine how information affects individual cosponsorship and roll call voting decisions. I find that institutions can substantially affect legislators’ position taking behavior by influencing the availability of information.
Research outside my dissertation examines other factors that may affect legislators’ policy positions. Work with Jeff Lax and Justin Phillips examines how responsive legislators are to different constituencies. Observational and experimental work with Don Green explores the importance of campaign finance. And work with Shigeo Hirano examines how primary election competition between intraparty factions affects the ideological composition of legislatures.
NEW PAPER: Jeff Lax, Justin Phillips, and I apply multilevel regression and poststratification to estimate public preferences by voters’ state, income, and party. Are senators more responsive to wealthy or partisan constituents? Party or the Purse (DRAFT)?.