The Elasticity of Partisanship in Congress: An Analysis of Legislative Bipartisanship

49 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 16 Sep 2010

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 25, 2010


In recent election cycles, Republican members of Congress distanced themselves, at least rhetorically, from an unpopular party image and president. In more recent months, we've seen the economic crisis draw out fierce displays of partisanship over stimulus spending. Why should the behavior of members change in the short-term if there are no changes in ideology or membership? This project explores three complementary questions central to this puzzle. First, do members of Congress go beyond rhetoric, to actually changing their legislative behavior, in response to changes in the legislative context (specifically, an unpopular president or poor economic conditions)? Second, do all members change their behavior or are changes restricted to the most electorally vulnerable members? Third, can changes in the composition of the legislative agenda (that correspond with changes in presidential approval or economic crisis) explain these short-term fluctuations in bipartisan cooperation? By looking at the bill cosponsorship patterns of individual members from the 98th-109th Congresses, I examine the likelihood that members engage in bipartisan coalitions as a function of presidential popularity and economic conditions. The evidence suggests that while the response of legislative behavior to presidential approval varies across Congresses, there is more support for an agenda content argument than for concern with the popularity of the party as a brand. The results of this study have implications for a number of areas of legislative politics, including legislative behavior and preferences, the study of the congressional agenda, and party branding.

Suggested Citation

Harbridge, Laurel, The Elasticity of Partisanship in Congress: An Analysis of Legislative Bipartisanship (March 25, 2010). Western Political Science Association 2010 Annual Meeting Paper , Available at SSRN:

Laurel Harbridge (Contact Author)

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics