Skip to main content

Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Professor of Political Science | IPR Associate Director (as of Sept. 1, 2024)

PhD, Political Science, Stanford University, 2009

Laurel Harbridge-Yong’s work focuses on how elections, institutions, and policy are connected in the United States. Her research explores a range of questions surrounding partisan conflict and the difficulty of reaching bipartisan agreement and legislative compromises in American politics. Her research spans projects on Congress, state legislatures, and the mass public. 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 2020 book explored how legislators’ perception of primary voters discourages legislative compromise. Her current research examines the power of primary voters in American politics and how worrisome trends of threats and violence toward elected officials alter our democratic politics. She is IPR's associate director.

Current Research

The Electoral Challenge of Balancing Primary and General Electorates. To many observers, American politics appears broken as the two parties vehemently disagree over policy and even basic facts. One component of this conflict is legislators’ attentiveness to the preferences of their primary voters rather than the broader electorate. In joint work with Sarah Anderson at UC Santa Barbara and Daniel Butler at Washington University St. Louis, Harbridge-Yong builds on a finding of their 2020 book--legislators believe the views of their primary and general electorates often diverge and that when they diverge, their political careers are better served by being responsive to the wishes of their primary voters. In this project, they examine the incentives legislators have to be more responsive to primary election than general election voters. They show that legislators have incentives to be more responsive to primary voters because primary voters are more unified in their policy preferences and because voters in primaries are more responsive to the policy positions of incumbents than voters in general elections.  The findings have implications for representation of the views of underrepresented voters and the role of primary elections in polarization.

Information and Perceptions of Electability in Primary Elections. Do primary voters differentiate between candidates that give their party a better or worse chance of winning in the general election? If so, what information do they use to make these judgements, and does it affect their voting choices? In joint work with Sarah Anderson of UC Santa Barbara, Daniel Butler of Washington University in St. Louis, Barry Burden of the University of Wisconsin, and Tim Ryan of the University of North Carolina, Harbridge-Yong examines these questions through a survey of 2022 primary voters in several states. They examine three candidate attributes that plausibly shape voters’ perceptions of electability: ideological moderation, experience in elected office, and campaign fundraising success. Their findings suggest that Republican and Democratic primary voters develop and apply electability perceptions in different ways: where Democratic primary voters interpret ideological moderation as a sign of electability, Republican voters’ perceptions draw more heavily on information about candidate fundraising. These results provide important insights into how primary voters evaluate candidates and illustrate one source of asymmetric polarization. 

Who Do Legislators Blame For Inaction? High levels of party polarization combined with divided government in recent years often resulted in legislative gridlock in Congress. For legislators who want to promote a record of accomplishment, they may respond to inaction by laying blame for inaction on other actors. In joint work with David Doherty at Loyola University and Amanda D’Urso at Northwestern, Harbridge-Yong examines how frequently legislators discuss legislative inaction in their constituent newsletters and, when they discuss inaction, who do they blame. The results speak to the tensions legislators face between governing and engaging in partisan-based messaging.

What Are The Consequences of Threats and Violence Against Elected Officials? Elected officials, staff and election workers across federal, state and local politics In the U.S. have experienced a rise in harassment, threats and violence. In joint work with Alexandra Filindra of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Harbridge-Yong examines how this worrisome trends affects our democratic politics. For elected officials and their staff, how do these experiences change how they approach governing or engaging with constituents and whether they want to stay in public service? For the public, does the partisan nature of this political violence further reinforce partisan animosity and support for undemocratic behaviors? Harbridge-Yong and her co-author are exploring these questions through extensive Interviews with elected officials and staff, surveys of elected officials, and public opinion surveys.

Selected Publications


Anderson, S., D. Butler, and Harbridge-Yong, L. 2020. Rejecting Compromise: Legislators’ Fear of Primary Voters. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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

Journal Articles and Chapters

Anderson, S., D. Butler, L. Harbridge-Yong, and R. Marshall. 2023. Top-Four Primaries Help Moderate Candidates via Crossover Voting: The Case of the 2022 Alaska Election Reforms. The Forum 21: 123-136

Harbridge-Yong, L., and C. Volden and A. Wiseman. 2023. The Bipartisan Path to Effective Lawmaking. The Journal of Politics 85: 1048-1063.

Anderson, S., D. Butler, L. Harbridge-Yong, and G.A. Markaraian. 2023.  Driving Legislators' Policy Preferences: Constituent Commutes and Gas Taxes. Legislative Studies Quarterly 48: 203-218.

Filindra, A., and L. Harbridge-Yong. 2022. How do partisans navigate intra-group conflict? A theory of leadership-driven motivated reasoningPolitical Behavior 44: 1437–58.

Harbridge-Yong, L., and C. Paris. 2021. “You can’t always get what you want: How majority-party agenda-setting and ignored alternatives shape public attitudes.Legislative Studies Quarterly 46(2): 323–56 .

Harbridge-Yong, L. 2020. “Congressional capacity and bipartisanship in Congress.” In Congress Overwhelmed: The Decline of Congressional Capacity and Prospects for Reform. Eds. L. Drutman, K. Kosar, and T. LaPira. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Doherty, D., and L. Harbridge-Yong. 2020. “The effects of blaming others for legislative inaction on individual and collective evaluations.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 45(1): 69-99. 

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

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