Laurel Harbridge

Assistant Professor of Political Science


Laurel Harbridge’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 forthcoming book, Is Bipartisanship Dead?, Harbridge 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 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 is Better and Worse than Legislative Compromise In work with IPR graduate research assistant D.J. Flynn, Harbridge 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. These results illustrate the extent to which the public values legislative productivity—and that its opinion is not simply being driven by partisanship.

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 examines why some legislators hold out. The researchers use an original survey of state legislators to examine their willingness to vote in favor of a compromise proposal that moves the state gas tax more in alignment with their preferred policy position. More than a quarter of the legislators—a surprisingly large number—say they would vote against such a compromise proposal. This runs counter to expectations from a spatial model with proximity voting. 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.

Gendered Incentives for Legislative Compromise. 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 and her colleagues, Yanna Krupnikov of Stony Brook University and Nichole Bauer of the University of Indiana, show that female lawmakers face very limited voter backlash when they refuse to compromise. They also show that the amount of their punishment depends on partisanship of the lawmaker and whether the issue is seen as being more of a men’s or women’s issue.

Selected Publications

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

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

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

Harbridge, L., with S. Anderson. 2010. Incrementalism in appropriations: Small aggregation, big changes. Public 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.