Partisan Polarization, Lawmaking, and Representation in the United States Congress
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The composition of the two major parties, both at the mass and elite level, has changed dramatically over the past fifty years. In this period we have witnessed a notable resurgence of ideological separation between the parties. Yet we do not understand well the effects of polarization on other political processes. Does polarization affect the process of creating legislation (that is, lawmaking)? Does polarization affect the extent to which policy is reflective of public preferences (that is, representation)? Does polarization change the way individuals perceive the Congress and its processes (that is, approval)? The dissertation seeks to answer these three questions. To do so, it leverages a theory with a rich intellectual history: Conditional Party Government (CPG). Most basically, CPG assumes that lawmaking strategies and policy outputs should vary systematically with the shape of majority preferences (relative to minority preferences) and the amount of ideological separation between the two. In its current form, however, CPG is not sufficiently developed to make systematic predictions about the nature of lawmaking across all arrangements of majority and minority parties. Moreover, no test of CPG has used quality measures of key concepts over time in a systematic, longitudinal test of the theory. Accordingly, I formalize the predictions of CPG for three key outcomes – majority power, minority power, and policy results – for each of the possible combinations of political parties (heterogeneous and homogenous, ideologically similar and dissimilar). The contribution of the dissertation is fourfold. First, it provides a systematizing of CPG. That is, it generates unique predictions for each of the possibly observable conditions of parties. Second, it fills a large gap in the literature by providing the first systematic, longitudinal tests of CPG and, thus, the effects of polarization on lawmaking. By quantifying the “conditions” of CPG, we can identify the importance of each of the components of the theory – majority and minority party shape and the distance between the two – in determining the expected patterns of partisan lawmaking strategies and policy outputs. Third, it generates a novel measure of restrictive legislative rules over time. Rules are notoriously hard to measure, and no quality, longitudinal measures of the restrictiveness of rules exist. Accordingly, I code all recorded votes in the Congressional Quarterly Almanac from 1947 to 2012 (over 27,000), isolate all votes on any motion pertaining to legislative rules (over 3,000), collect those rules and content-analyze them, using Python, to determine if they fit patterns of restrictiveness (barring amendments, limiting time for debate, and so on). This strategy can be extended to code virtually any desired attribute of rules over time. This is one of the most comprehensive datasets on legislative rules in the discipline. In particular, I employ these data in the dissertation to test the theory I develop regarding the implications of polarization on lawmaking. Fourth, the dissertation uses CPG to test the implications of polarization for representation and for approval. These novel analyses help to advance the discipline beyond investigating the causes of polarization and toward examining its effects on the American political system.
Jordan, Soren C (2015). Partisan Polarization, Lawmaking, and Representation in the United States Congress. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from