Timely Shirking: Time-Dependent Monitoring and its Effects on Legislative Behavior in the U.S. Senate, 1981-2002
47 Pages Posted: 29 Oct 2008 Last revised: 27 May 2009
Date Written: May 26, 2009
Studies of legislative shirking have made important contributions to our understanding of democratic accountability and representative government. In the literature, legislative shirking is defined as behavior that diverges from constituency demands and seen as the result of imperfect monitoring and ineffective punishment by constituencies. Most research has focused on ineffective punishment as the main cause of legislative shirking. In this study, we focus on the other side of the shirking story - imperfect monitoring. We argue that since information costs and constituency memory vary over the course of an election cycle, there should also be systematic variation in constituent monitoring over time. Furthermore, if constituent monitoring varies across time, and assuming that constituents are not the only cue that legislators rely on, we should expect time-dependent legislative shirking. We develop a simple theoretical model of legislative decision making with time-dependent monitoring, which we then empirically test using legislative roll-call data. Specifically, we look at how the policy positions of U.S. senators change over the course of their six-year terms. We find that a substantial number of senators engage in behavior consistent with systematic, time-dependent shirking. Furthermore, our results show that when senators shirk in a time-dependent manner, they systematically move toward extreme positions when constituent monitoring is low and moderate when it is high. Thus, it appears that constituents do provide a constraint on legislative behavior.
Keywords: Legislative Politics, Legislative Institutions, Elections, U.S. Congress, U.S. Senate, Shirking
JEL Classification: D72, D82
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation