The Elasticity of Partisanship in Congress: An Analysis of Legislative Bipartisanship and Party Popularity

35 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 23 Aug 2012

Date Written: 2012


In recent election cycles, members of Congress distanced themselves, at least rhetorically, from an unpopular party image or president. Why should the behavior of members change in the short-term if there are no changes in ideology or membership? I argue that party popularity affects the relative benefits of pursuing individual or collective goals, and thus the extent to which members wants to distance themselves from or attach themselves to a party label. This project explores three complementary questions central to this idea. 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, does the relationship between legislative behavior and party popularity vary depending on the closeness of an election? Third, are there groups of members who are more responsive to party popularity? By looking at the bill cosponsorship patterns of individual members from the 102nd - 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 occur only when elections are close. 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, Representation, Elections, Bipartisanship, Party, Party Popularity

Suggested Citation

Harbridge, Laurel, The Elasticity of Partisanship in Congress: An Analysis of Legislative Bipartisanship and Party Popularity (2012). APSA 2012 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