How the Sausage is Made

Kevin Lewis

July 31, 2020

Observability and Reasoned Discourse: Evidence from the U.S. Senate
Edward Stiglitz & Aviv Caspi
Cornell University Working Paper, June 2020


Many private and public institutions depend on reasoned discourse to reach decisions. Before collective action, before voting, tends to come reasoned discourse, at least in aspiration. Reformers commonly call for increases in the transparency of collective decision-making, lobbying for instance for the Supreme Court to televise proceedings. Here, we examine reasoned discourse in one important public body, the U.S. Senate, and study how increasing transparency through the introduction of C-SPAN changed legislative discourse. We find that the introduction of C-SPAN encouraged member discourse to herd with co-partisans and to anti-herd with cross-partisans; it also appears to have led to the restructuring of Senate time to facilitate performative speech. Suggesting the information problems and career incentives at play, these herding and anti-herding effects seem strongest for those closest to an election and for those with less sophisticated constituencies.

Party Competition and Coalitional Stability: Evidence from American Local Government
Peter Bucchianeri
American Political Science Review, forthcoming


For decades, political scientists have argued that competition is a fundamental component of a responsible party system, such that when one party dominates politics, legislative coalitions destabilize and democratic accountability suffers. In this paper, I evaluate these predictions in an important but largely unexplored legislative environment: American local government. Using an original collection of roll-call records from 151 municipal councils, I show that legislative behavior is more one-dimensional when elections are partisan and the electorate is evenly balanced between the parties. When either of these features is absent, however, elite behavior remains unstructured, with coalitions shifting over time and across issues. These differences across institutional and competitive contexts suggest that partisan elections — and the party organizations that nearly always come with them — are critical for translating electoral insecurity into organized government, raising questions about the capacity for electoral accountability in a growing set of one-party dominant governments across the country.

State Congressional Delegations and the Distribution of Federal Funds
James Curry & Christopher Donnelly
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


Most scholarship on U.S. distributive politics either focuses on the abilities of individual representatives and senators to bring home the bacon or highlights the role the president plays in influencing funding decisions. Little attention is paid to collective efforts in Congress involved in securing grants-in-aid to states. In this paper, we assess how characteristics of House and Senate state delegations affect the collective efforts of a state’s federal officeholders to secure statewide funds. In both the House and Senate, we find that partisan cohesion in a state delegation predicts more federal funds to states. In particular, states receive more funds when larger shares of their delegations are members of a chamber’s majority party. Moreover, we find that the importance of majority party status is increasing over time. These results have important implications for the U.S. federal system and distributive politics.

How Outside Money Makes Governing More Difficult
Mike Norton & Richard Pildes
Election Law Journal, forthcoming


Little empirical attention has been paid to the possible relationship between the sources of money in campaigns and whether political parties within the legislature are more unified or fragmented. Using recent data along with original interviews of leading party figures and former members of Congress, this article assesses how the rise of contributions from organizations outside the political parties affects the unity or disunity of the party caucus in the legislature. With highly polarized political parties, party fragmentation makes all the more difficult the building of effective governing coalitions. Exploiting state variation in political action committee (PAC) contribution limits on party voting heterogeneity — the extent to which the caucus votes together — we find that higher levels of permitted PAC contributions decrease the unity of parties in the legislature. The results hold for both the majority and the minority party; for state legislatures that are both professional and part-time; and for whether the majority leader fully controls the legislative agenda or does not do so. Through interviews with former party leaders, campaign committee and congressional staff, and rank and file members, we link this effect to federal reforms that have weakened the parties relative to outside interest groups and thus limited the leverage party leaders have to forge more unified party caucuses. As the debate over partisanship and government dysfunction in U.S. politics continues, this article adds an important component to understanding how changes in campaign finance laws have contributed to fragmenting the political parties, and hence, to making effective governing coalitions more difficult to forge.

A Graphical Lasso Approach to Estimating Network Connections: The Case of U.S. Lawmaker
Marco Battaglini et al.
NBER Working Paper, July 2020


In this paper, we propose a new approach to the estimation of social networks and we apply it to the estimation of productivity spillovers in the U.S. Congress. Social networks such as the social connections among lawmakers are not generally directly observed, they can be recovered only using the observable outcomes that they contribute to determine (such as, for example, the legislators’ effectiveness). Moreover, they are typically stable for relatively short periods of time, thus generating only short panels of observations. Our estimator has three appealing properties that allows it to work in these environments. First, it is constructed for “small” asymptotic, thus requiring only short panels of observations. Second, it requires relatively nonrestrictive sparsity assumptions for identification, thus being applicable to dense networks with (potentially) star shaped connections. Third, it allows for heterogeneous common shocks across subnetworks. The application to the U.S. Congress gives us new insights about the nature of social interactions among lawmakers. We estimate a significant decrease over time in the importance of productivity spillovers among individual lawmakers, compensated by an increase in the party level common shock over time. This suggests that the rise of partisanship is not affecting only the ideological position of legislators when they vote, but more generally how lawmakers collaborate in the U.S. Congress.

Labor Boundaries and Skills: The Case of Lobbyists
Miguel Espinosa
Management Science, forthcoming


What are the determinants of in-house employment versus outsourcing in the service sector? I use detailed data on U.S. lobbying services to answer this question. I argue with a series of correlational exercises that firms tend to outsource lobbying tasks that demand a large amount of general skills, whereas they are more likely to assign firm-specific tasks to in-house lobbyists. I provide causal evidence that the need to do tasks that vary in their general skill component leads to a change in outsourcing. Using difference-in-difference estimations, I show that the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill increased the general skills needed by oil and gas firms and that, consequently, their use of lobbyists for hire increased.

Getting a High Heel in the Door: An Experiment on State Legislator Responsiveness to Women’s Issue Lobbying
Elizabeth Wiener
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming


Are women in office more likely to provide access to women’s lobby groups than men in office? If so, how can women’s strategic lobbying increase the responsiveness of male legislators? This paper presents a field experiment examining how women and men in state legislatures respond differently to women’s organizational lobbying. My findings suggest that substantial gender gaps do exist; women are twice as likely to respond to a women’s issue group’s simple meeting request. That said, meeting requests signaling constituent mobilization have heterogeneous effects across legislator gender, doubling the likelihood that a male legislator will respond and effectively closing gender gaps in responsiveness. My results identify how women’s lobbying can employ distinct lobbying strategies on descriptive and nondescriptive representatives to successfully gain their attention. In distinguishing differing pathways toward maximizing opportunities for women’s organizational inclusion in policymaking, this paper importantly informs women’s groups lobbying in state legislatures, wherein low levels of descriptive representation often persist.

Economic Crisis, General Laws, and the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Transformation of American Political Economy
Naomi Lamoreaux & John Joseph Wallis
NBER Working Paper, June 2020


Before the middle of the nineteenth century most laws enacted in the United States were special bills that granted favors to specific individuals, groups, or localities. This fundamentally inegalitarian system provided political elites with important tools that they could use to reward supporters, and as a result, they were only willing to modify it under very special circumstances. In the early 1840s, however, a major fiscal crisis forced a number of states to default on their bonded debt, unleashing a political earthquake that swept this system away. Starting with Indiana in 1851, states revised their constitutions to ban the most common types of special legislation and, at the same time, mandate that all laws be general in their application. These provisions dramatically changed the way government and the economy worked and interacted, giving rise to the modern regulatory state, interest-group politics, and a more dynamic form of capitalism.

Why Georgia? A Curious and Unappreciated Pioneer on the Road to Early Youth Enfranchisement in the United States
Melanie Jean Springer
Journal of Policy History, July 2020, Pages 273-324


In 1943, Georgia’s constitution was amended to lower the voting age to eighteen, making it the first — and for twelve years, the only — state in the Union to establish a voting-age requirement below twenty-one. Despite being widely considered at the time by several national and state political actors, Georgia’s reform represents an important and unappreciated historical puzzle. First, few would regard mid-twentieth-century Georgia as being even modestly progressive, especially regarding voting rights. Second, there is no evidence that an organized group lobbied for the reform. Further, there is no reason why lowering the voting age was inherently unique to Georgia qua Georgia. Instead, this study offers a detailed historical analysis highlighting the dedication of its young governor, and argues that Ellis Arnall’s political entrepreneurialism coupled with growing intraparty factionalism in Georgian politics and strategic timing facilitated this rare instance of electoral progressivism in the Deep South.

“No Man Is Big Enough”: President Harding's Defense of the Proto‐Modern Executive
Niall Palmer
Presidential Studies Quarterly, forthcoming


Warren Harding's administration was not, as is widely perceived, a failed experiment in executive whiggism but a surprisingly spirited defense of presidential authority against the strongest anti‐executive backlash since Reconstruction. His support for active‐interventionist conservatism and a modified style of “steward” leadership separated him from his traditionalist Republican predecessors — William McKinley and William H. Taft — and successor — Calvin Coolidge. Ambitiously, Harding sought to fuse elements of the Roosevelt–Wilson experiments in presidential leadership with his own, less egocentric view of “balanced” constitutional government. His adaptability helped maintain the expansion of the administrative state and of the “institutional” and “rhetorical” aspects of presidential power, albeit at more modest rates than under Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. By initiating, or further enabling, growth trends in cabinet government, media influence, and institutional reform, he developed operational templates used by later Republican presidents, notably, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Rather than being dismissed as irrelevant, therefore, Harding’s tenure should be credited both for its innovation and flexibility at a time of institutional crisis and for its contribution to the development of post‐1930s Republican presidential leadership.

Which Citizens Do Elected Officials Target With Distributive Spending? A Survey Experiment on U.S. Municipal Officials
Adam Dynes
American Politics Research, September 2020, Pages 579-595


Research is mixed as to whether politicians target swing voters or core supporters with distributive spending and whether citizens’ turnout affects this strategy. I use a novel data set and research design to examine this — a survey experiment on elected municipal officials. Respondents indicated which of two neighborhoods to target with a local project. I find that local officials, on average, target swing neighborhoods over core ones because they believe that swing voters are more likely than core voters to electorally punish politicians for targeting other groups. Yet, a large proportion still target core voters but not for reasons consistent with extant theory. Officials generally target high turnout neighborhoods over low turnout ones but under certain conditions are also willing to target lower turnout citizens. These findings point to the need for ongoing work to identify the conditions under which officials will target core or swing voters.

The Partisan Logic of City Mobilization: Evidence from State Lobbying Disclosures
Julia Payson
American Political Science Review, August 2020, Pages 677-690


Why do local governments sometimes hire lobbyists to represent them in other levels of government? I argue that such mobilization efforts depend in part on the policy congruence between localities and their elected delegates in the legislature. I provide evidence consistent with this theory by examining how municipal governments in the United States respond to partisan and ideological mismatches with their state legislators — a common representational challenge. Using almost a decade of original panel data on municipal lobbying in all 50 states, I employ difference-in-differences and a regression discontinuity design to demonstrate that cities are significantly more likely to hire lobbyists when their districts elect non-co-partisan state representatives. The results are broadly consistent with a model of intergovernmental mobilization in which local officials purchase advocacy to compensate for the preference gaps that sometimes emerge in multilevel government.

The Source of the Legislative Professionalism Advantage: Attracting More Knowledgeable Candidates
Zoe Nemerever & Daniel Butler
State Politics & Policy Quarterly, forthcoming


Legislators who know their constituents’ opinions are more likely to be successful in providing substantive representation on issues of the day. However, previous work suggests that state legislators and candidates commonly misestimate their constituents’ preferences. Some of that work also finds that candidates and current incumbents in highly professionalized legislatures are less likely to misestimate constituent opinion. We investigate why this professionalism advantage exists. We use a Blinder–Oaxaca decomposition to determine how much of the professionalism advantage can be attributed to three sources: attracting knowledgeable candidates, fostering legislator knowledge in office, and retaining incumbents. We apply the decomposition to data on candidates’ perceptions of public opinion from the 2014 National Candidate Survey. Fostering knowledge in office and retaining incumbents are not responsible for the professionalism advantage. We find evidence that the professionalism advantage occurs because higher professionalism legislatures attract more knowledgeable nonincumbent candidates.

Policy Diffusion: The Issue‐Definition Stage
Fabrizio Gilardi, Charles Shipan & Bruno Wüest
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


We put forward a new approach to studying issue definition within the context of policy diffusion. Most studies of policy diffusion — which is the process by which policymaking in one government affects policymaking in other governments — have focused on policy adoptions. We shift the focus to an important but neglected aspect of this process: the issue‐definition stage. We use topic models to estimate how policies are framed during this stage and how these frames are predicted by prior policy adoptions. Focusing on smoking restriction in U.S. states, our analysis draws upon an original data set of over 52,000 paragraphs from newspapers covering 49 states between 1996 and 2013. We find that frames regarding the policy's concrete implications are predicted by prior adoptions in other states, whereas frames regarding its normative justifications are not. Our approach and findings open the way for a new perspective to studying policy diffusion in many different areas.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.