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

41 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 31 Aug 2010

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: 2010


In recent election cycles, Republican members of Congress distanced themselves, at least rhetorically, from an unpopular party image and president. Why should the behavior of members change in the short-term if there are no changes in ideology or membership? This project explores two 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 popularity of their party? Second, do all members change their behavior or are changes restricted to the most electorally vulnerable members? 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 party popularity in the electorate. The evidence suggests that members do respond to the popularity of their party in the electorate, engaging in more bipartisanship when their party is less popular. However, these effects have changed over time, with members becoming less responsive to party popularity. The results of this study have implications for a number of areas of legislative politics, including legislative behavior and preferences, electoral responsiveness, and party branding.

Keywords: Congress, polarization, party popularity, legislative behavior, bipartisan

Suggested Citation

Harbridge, Laurel, The Elasticity of Partisanship in Congress: An Analysis of Legislative Bipartisanship (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Laurel Harbridge (Contact Author)

Northwestern University ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

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