Laurel Harbridge Yong

Associate Professor of Political Science


Laurel Harbridge Yong’s work focuses on how elections, institutions, and policy are connected in the United States Congress.  Her recent research explores declining bipartisan cooperation in Congress, changes in party strategy and the ramifications of these changes for the responsiveness of members to their constituents and for policy formation. 

Current Research

Strategic Partisanship. In her book, Is Bipartisanship Dead? (Cambridge University Press 2015), Harbridge Yong explores the decline in bipartisan cooperation in the U.S. House of Representatives since the 1970s. In particular, she looks at roll-call voting, as well as members’ bill-cosponsorship coalitions, to gauge policy agreement across the aisle. Her analysis of cosponsorship coalitions shows that bipartisan agreement persists from 1973–2004. Rather than reflecting a lack of bipartisan legislation that could be pursued, the patterns of declining bipartisanship in roll-call votes reflect a shift in how party leaders structured the roll-call agenda. Between the 1970s and 1990s, House party leaders moved their priorities from more to less bipartisan legislation. This pattern is particularly pronounced in policy areas associated with the party brand and issue ownership. Harbridge Yong argues that this shift reflects a changing political environment and leaders’ efforts to balance their members’ electoral interests, governance goals, and partisan differentiation. Her book underscores important implications for understanding polarization, party influence, policy outcomes, governance, and congressional representation.

How Partisan Conflict in Congress Affects Public Opinion: Strategies, Outcomes, and Issue Differences. In forthcoming work with former IPR graduate research assistant D.J. Flynn, Harbridge Yong focuses on legislative gridlock to explain a puzzle: Why does the public give a highly partisan Congress low approval ratings, but approve of partisan policymaking when their political party triumphs legislatively because of it? Harbridge and Flynn find that when partisan conflict results in a victory for a voter’s party, it boosts their approval of Congress, but when it leads to gridlock, it substantially damages public approval. The extent to which gridlock harms evaluations, however, varies across policy areas. On energy policy – where the parties disagree on the means but agree on the end goals – gridlock is even worse than a victory for the opposing party. On gun ownership policy - where the parties disagree on both the means and ends of policy – gridlock is viewed similarly to a victory for the opposing party. These results illustrate the extent to which the public values legislative productivity—and that its opinion is not simply being driven by partisanship.

Who is punished for not compromising? Conventional wisdom argues that female lawmakers are more likely to compromise than their male counterparts, and theories of stereotype use suggest that female legislators who fail to compromise may be judged particularly harshly since they are failing to conform to expected behaviors. Harbridge Yong and her colleagues, Yanna Krupnikov of Stony Brook University and Nichole M. Bauer of the University of Alabama, show that gender is one of several factors that can affect when people are willing to overlook a legislator’s unwillingness to compromise. They demonstrate that the extent to which lawmakers are punished for not compromising is conditional on the interaction of party, gender, and issue area. People may be most willing to overlook an unwillingness to engage in compromise when party, gender, and issue ownership align than with these factors are at odds.

Legislative Holdouts. Legislative gridlock not only results from a lack of common ground among elected officials but also from legislators who vote down legislation even when the policy proposal is closer to their most preferred policy than the status quo. In work with Sarah Anderson of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School and Daniel Butler of Washington University in St. Louis, Harbridge Yong examines why some legislators hold out. The researchers use a series of original surveys of state legislators to examine when and why legislators reject policy compromises. Research on the state gas tax and legislators’ willingness to vote in favor of a compromise proposal that moves the state gas tax more in alignment with their preferred policy position shows that more than a quarter of the legislators—a surprisingly large number—say they would vote against such a compromise proposal. The findings show that those in the majority, Republicans, and those who fear voter backlash are the most likely to hold out. These patterns point to one way that legislative gridlock can occur even when the proposed policy changes would benefit all legislators. Harbridge Yong and her colleagues are expanding this research to examine whether a focus on shared goals can incentivize legislators to agree to compromises.

Selected Publications

Harbridge, L., with N. Bauer and Y. Krupnikov. Forthcoming. Who is Punished? Conditions Affecting Voter Evaluations of Legislators who Do Not Compromise. Political Behavior. 

Harbridge, L., with D.J. Flynn. Forthcoming. How Partisan Conflict in Congress Affects Public Opinion: Strategies, Outcomes, and Issue Differences. American Politics Research.

Harbridge, L., with S. Anderson, and D. Butler. Forthcoming. Legislative institutions as a source of party leaders’ influence. Legislative Studies Quarterly.

Harbridge, L. 2015. Is Bipartisanship Dead? Policy Agreement and Agenda-Setting in the House of Representatives. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Harbridge, L., with N. Malhotra, and B.F. Harrison. 2014. Public preferences for bipartisanship in the policymaking processLegislative Studies Quarterly 39(3): 327–55.

Harbridge, L., with S. Anderson. 2014. The policy consequences of motivated information processing among the partisan eliteAmerican Politics Research 42(4): 700–28.

Harbridge, L., with N. Malhotra. 2011. Electoral incentives and partisan conflict: Evidence from survey experimentsAmerican Journal of Political Science 55(3): 494–510.

Harbridge, L., with S. Anderson. 2010. Incrementalism in appropriations: Small aggregation, big changesPublic Administration Review 70(3): 464–74.

Harbridge, L., with D. Brady and J. Ferejohn. 2008. Polarization and public policy: A general assessment. In Red and Blue Nation? Consequences and Correction of America’s Polarized Politics, vol. II, ed. P. S. Nivola and D. W. Brady. Washington D.C: Brookings Institution Press.

Harbridge, L., with D. Brady and D. Rivers. 2008. The 2008 Democratic shift. Policy Review. Hoover Institution, 152: December 2008 & January 2009.