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Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Professor of Political Science

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 legislative inaction, partisan conflict, and the power of primary voters in American politics.

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.  They also study senators’ roll call votes and demonstrate that the primary electorate’s preference is a more important factor than the general electorate’s preference on cross-pressured votes. The findings consistently point to the incentives legislators face to be more responsive to primary than general election voters – an insight that has implications for representation of the views of underrepresented voters and the role of primary elections in polarization.

Are Bipartisan Lawmakers More Effective? While some of the greatest legislative accomplishments in policymaking in the United States resulted from bipartisan compromises and many of the most legendary legislators espoused the importance of bipartisanship, such sentiments and outcomes seem out of place in the contemporary, highly polarized Congress. Or are they? In joint work with Craig Volden at the University of Virginia and Alan Wiseman at Vanderbilt University, Harbridge-Yong examines whether legislators who cultivate a record of bipartisanship find more legislative success in advancing their bills through the lawmaking process. They find that legislators who attract a larger proportion of opposite-party cosponsors to their bills are, indeed, more effective lawmakers. They also demonstrate that while there is no direct payoff for a legislator who engages in bipartisan cosponsorships, signing onto bills sponsored by the opposing party has an indirect effect; it helps legislators draw in more cosponsors from the opposite-party on bills sponsored by the legislator.

Primary Voters, Information, and Perceptions of Electability. 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 innovative measures of perceived electability in a survey of 2020 primary voters in several states. The results speak to how voters use information on fundraising, prior experience in elected office, and moderation to assess the electability of primary candidates.

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.

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

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.

Gimpel, J., and L. Harbridge-Yong. 2021. Conflicting goals of redistricting: Do districts that maximize competition reckon with communities of interest? Election Law Journal 19(4): 451–71.

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.

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