Laurel Harbridge Yong

Associate Professor of Political Science


Biography

Laurel Harbridge Yong’s work focuses on how elections, institutions, and policy are connected in the United States Congress. Her 2015 book explored 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. Her current research examines legislative inaction and partisan conflict in Congress and American politics more broadly.

Current Research

The Rejection of Common Ground Politics. Many complaints about the impediments to legislative action at the federal and state levels focus on a lack of common ground among polarized legislators. But even when common ground in possible, there is no guarantee that elected officials will accept a compromise that would move policy forward. Legislators may still reject “half a loaf” and produce gridlock in the process. In work with Sarah Anderson of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School, and Daniel Butler of the University of California San Diego, Harbridge Yong examines why some legislators reject compromise. The goal of this research is 1) to identify whether and how often elected officials’ refusal to compromise goes beyond a lack of common ground, 2) to explore why this might happen, and 3) to assess potential solutions to this problem. Using a combination of experimental and observational data, Harbridge Yong and her co-authors explore how often legislators reject common ground proposals that make them better off and examine the factors that explain this behavior. In two experimental studies—one of state legislators and one of elected city officials—they find that roughly a quarter of officials reject common ground compromises. Their findings point to fear of voter retribution as a driver of opposition to compromise, and to the primary electorate in particular.  

Passing the Buck for Inaction. Many perspectives of representative democracy assume that voters will hold elected officials accountable when their behavior falls short of expectations. Given widespread public frustration with gridlock, legislators should have incentives to reach agreements. However, gridlock persists. One explanation for this pattern may be that legislators can avoid penalties for inaction by shifting blame to other actors, leaving voters unsure about who to penalize for aggregate outcomes like gridlock. In work with David Doherty at Loyola University Chicago, Harbridge Yong utilizes content analysis of legislators’ communications with constituents, as well as a series of survey experiments to assess how members explain gridlock and whether they can avoid voter penalties by passing the buck. This work has important implications for our understanding of the extent to which the separation of powers system provides representatives with a way to avoid electoral punishment by deflecting blame, and how party and institutional reputations can be affected by this type of behavior.

Ignoring the Policy Alternatives. Literature focused on the internal processes of Congress highlights the importance of agenda-setting and the power of the majority party to control what receives a vote. Yet, we know little about whether the public knows or cares about this power. In joint work with Celia Paris of Loyola University Maryland, Harbridge Yong examines how much the ignored alternatives matter for evaluations of the policy process. If the majority pursues a partisan bill and people know the majority ignored either a bipartisan bill or a bill with alternatives proposed by the minority party, does this alter public responses to the majority party or the legislation under consideration? Drawing on research on procedural justice as well as partisan social identities, Harbridge Yong and her co-author examine how responses to policymaking are shaped by knowledge of what alternatives were ignored by the majority party. 

Selected Publications

Harbridge, L., with N. Bauer and Y. Krupnikov. 2017. Who is punished? Conditions affecting voter evaluations of legislators who do not compromise. Political Behavior 39(2): 279–300.

Harbridge, L., with D.J. Flynn. 2016. How partisan conflict in Congress affects public opinion: Strategies, outcomes, and issue differences. American Politics Research 44(5):875–902.

Harbridge, L., with S. Anderson, and D. Butler. 2016. Legislative institutions as a source of party leaders’ influence. Legislative Studies Quarterly 41(3): 605–31.

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.