Skip to main content

Laurel Harbridge-Yong

Associate 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 Congress. Her research explores a range of questions surrounding a partisan conflict and the difficulty of reaching bipartisan agreement and legislative compromises in American politics. 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

Rejecting Compromise. 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.  This research is featured in a forthcoming book with Cambridge University Press – Rejecting Compromising: Legislators’ Fear of Primary Voters.

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. Their research (recently published in Legislative Studies Quarterly) shows that blaming others for inaction produces a backlash at the authorr—particular among outpartisans and independents—but can improve the standing of the author’s party relative to the opposing party. Their ongoing research examines variation in legislators' use of this communication strategy. This work has important implications for understanding party conflict and accountability.

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. 

Intra-Party Conflict and Dissent. Scholars increasingly view partisanship in the public as a social identity and find this perspective critical to understanding inter-party conflict, but existing work provides little guidance about how partisans should navigate intra-party conflict. In joint work with Alexandra Filindra of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Harbridge-Yong draws on theories of partisanship as a social identity as well as psychological theories of leadership and group dynamics to theorize how partisans respond to deviant behavior by an in-group leader, and to criticism of the leader by a fellow co-partisan. Harbridge-Yong and her co-author test these expectations through a series of survey experiments on both hypothetical and real leaders. The results point to in-group bias in how misbehaving leaders are evaluated, and very limited effectiveness of co-partisan criticism of the leader. This suggests that partisan group attachments can further erode democratic accountability.

Selected Publications

Harbridge-Yong, L., with Sarah E. Anderson and Daniel M. Butler. Forthcoming. Rejecting Compromise: Legislators’ Fear of Primary Voters. New York: Cambridge University Press. (ISBN: 9781108487955).

Harbridge-Yong, L., with David Doherty. Forthcoming. “The Effects of Blaming Others for Legislative Inaction on Individual and Collective Evaluations.” Legislative Studies Quarterly.

Harbridge-Yong, 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.