Congressional Agenda Control and the Decline of Bipartisan Cooperation (WP-10-11)


Laurel Harbridge

Evidence shows that polarization in Congress has increased substantially since the 1970s while polarization in the public has increased much less, if at all. These two patterns of polarization suggest that responsiveness by members to their constituents has declined. By breaking apart congressional behavior, however, this paper suggests that this presumption is misleading. Looking at House roll call votes and bill cosponsorship coalitions, this paper suggests that although partisan behavior has increased substantially in roll call votes, the same is not true for bill cosponsorship coalitions. In turn, this suggests that while responsiveness has declined when considering roll call voting, responsiveness has increased when considering cosponsorship coalitions. These divergent patterns can be reconciled by taking into consideration congressional agenda control. As congressional parties sorted, partisan legislation became increasingly likely to face a roll call vote whereas bipartisan legislation became less likely to face a roll call vote.

Laurel Harbridge, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Faculty Fellow, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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