Three Essays on Legislative Behavior in American Legislatures
Williams, Robert Lucas
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The present research assesses three aspects of legislative behavior. The first chapter takes advantage of the opportunity presented by the Minnesota Legislature's surprise 1913 ban on parties from its chamber caucuses, election ballots, and nomination processes to assess party influence. I collect roll call votes from the sessions immediately prior to and immediately following the session in which this removal of parties occurred. I analyze the dimensionality and extent to which party predicts voting behavior and compare the results across the two sessions. I find that party influence declines across this period and I attribute this decline to the loss of partisan influence in the political process. Second, economic forces have been shown to affect access to the political process in profound ways. The second chapter suggests these effects structure how representatives view their constituencies and thus how they behave in the legislative arena. One powerful economic force over the past half-century has been the growth in income inequality. When income inequality is high, fewer citizens share more of the money. Political influence is an outgrowth of income. Thus, legislators representing districts with large degrees of income inequality will be more certain about how they ought to behave in order to satisfy those constituents who hold the greatest control over reelection prospects. I predict the consistency of legislators' roll call behavior in the U.S. Senate using state level measures of income inequality. The results indicate that constituency economic inequality leads to more consistent roll call behavior. The third chapter takes steps toward understanding the nature and extent of legislators' knowledge about the internal operations in their chambers and develops a strategy for measuring legislative knowledge. I explore some possible motivations for legislators to obtain this knowledge before conducting a factor analysis on the question battery. I test respondents' knowledge on 19 questions regarding the legislative process in their chambers. Using an original survey of state legislators conducted in early 2015 in all 50 U.S. states, I build measurements of legislative knowledge based on data reduction techniques from an Item Response Theory analysis. I discuss best practices in measuring legislative knowledge.