Why Are There So Many Lawyers in Congress?

51 Pages Posted: 16 Jan 2017 Last revised: 30 Aug 2017

Date Written: August 20, 2017


For centuries, scholars have sought to explain the overrepresentation of lawyers in Congress. This paper draws on a wealth of data to the explore the causes and consequences of this representational imbalance. While lawyers enter politics at higher rates, self-selection at best provides a partial explanation. Conditional on running, lawyers win at twice the rate of candidates from other backgrounds. Contrary to prevailing theories in the literature, voters do not reward candidates with backgrounds in law. Rather, lawyers win because of a sizable competitive advantage in early fundraising, owing in large part to their professional networks. This study has important implications for who runs for office, who wins, and the demographic composition of Congress. It also identifies an under explored mechanism by which the U.S. system of campaign finance sustains deep representational imbalances.

Keywords: Representation, Campaign Finance, Candidate Entry, Early Fundraising, Primary Elections, Professional Networks, Lawyers

Suggested Citation

Bonica, Adam, Why Are There So Many Lawyers in Congress? (August 20, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2898140 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2898140

Adam Bonica (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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