Party Power, Constituency Preferences, and Legislative Decision-Making in Congress

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Questions of party power and legislative outcomes are central to our understanding of Congress. And yet, our knowledge of these concepts has many gaps. We know little about exactly how parties negotiate legislative deals with their members—and hold them to their deals—or about how parties exert agenda control before bills reach the floor. We also have limited knowledge of how predictably the outcomes of bills are, particularly from their content. These questions remain unanswered largely because political scientists have traditionally not had data or methods at their disposal to answer them. In my dissertation, I provide some answers to these questions via a focus on text analysis.

In chapter one, I examine how parties make deals with recalcitrant members on landmark legislation, and more importantly, how members are held to their deals. Particularly, I argue that public statements are a tool wielded by the party, and when members are convinced to vote for a bill they are provided incentive to make a statement in support of the bill to lock them into their vote. Using a novel data set of all public statements made by members of Congress, and two pieces of landmark healthcare legislation (the Affordable Care Act in 2009-2010 and the American Health Care Act in 2017) I show that members of Congress do make public statements after they make deals to vote with the party, and that these statements are likely for the purpose of precommitting to vote with the party.

In chapter two, I seek to quantify the level of agenda control exerted by the majority party on bills that never reach a final passage vote. To do this, I present the first systematic estimates of how members would have voted on bills based on a characterization of bill content from bills’ text, would they have come to a final passage vote. I find that the majority party not only exercises negative agenda control, but also considerable positive agenda control. I also find that the minority party in the House is systematically and consistently shut out of the agenda process.

In chapter three, I investigate how predictable the outcome of bills is and whether bill content has a part to play in the predictability of bill outcomes. I find that I am able to predict where bills end up in the US House of Representatives with high accuracy, and that knowledge about the content of a bill has a sizable effect on how well I am able to predict bill outcomes.





Ballard, Andrew Ojala (2018). Party Power, Constituency Preferences, and Legislative Decision-Making in Congress. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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