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Contact Information:

l-harbridge@northwestern.edu

Scott Hall 312A

601 University Place

Evanston, IL 60208

(847) 467-1147

Research

Books

Is Bipartisanship Dead? Policy Agreement and Agenda-Setting in the House of Representatives

2015 from Cambridge University Press.

(Book information on publisher's website here)

(Blog post based on the book for The Washington Post Monkey Cage available here)

Is Bipartisanship Dead? looks beyond (and considers the time before) roll call voting to examine the extent to which bipartisan agreement in the House of Representatives has declined since the 1970s. The coalitions that members build around policies early in the legislative process point to a surprising persistence of bipartisan agreement between 1973 and 2004. The declining bipartisanship over time in roll call voting reflects a shift in how party leaders structure the floor and roll call agendas. Party leaders in the House changed from prioritizing legislation with bipartisan agreement in the 1970s to prioritizing legislation with partisan disagreement by the 1990s. Laurel Harbridge argues that this shift reflects a changing political environment and an effort by leaders to balance members’ electoral interests, governance goals, and partisan differentiation. The findings speak to questions of representation and governance. They also shed light on whether partisan conflict is insurmountable, and, ultimately, whether bipartisanship in congressional politics is dead.

 

Peer-Reviewed Articles

Who is Punished? Conditions Affecting Voter Evaluations of Legislators who Do Not Compromise

(with Nichole M. Bauer and Yanna Krupnikov, Political Behavior)

In American politics, legislative compromise is often seen as a necessary and desirable aspect of policymaking, yet people also value politicians who stick to their positions. In this article, we consider these conflicting expectations of legislators and ask two intertwined questions: what conditions lead people to punish legislators for not compromising (when legislative action is at stake) and, conversely, what conditions leave people more willing to overlook a legislator’s unwillingness to engage in compromise? Relying on previous research, we suggest that legislator gender, legislator partisanship, and issue area may all affect which legislators are punished for not compromising. Relying on two national experiments, we demonstrate that the extent to which lawmakers are punished for not compromising is conditional on the intersection of the three factors in this study. In general, our results suggest that people may be most willing to overlook unwillingness to engage in compromise when party, gender and issue ownership align than when party, gender, and issue ownership are at odds.

 

2017. Political Behavior 39(2):279-300.

(Paper available here)

Formerly IPR Working Paper IPR-WP-14-27

(Blog post based on this article available here)

 

How Partisan Conflict in Congress Affects Public Opinion: Strategies, Outcomes, and Issue Differences

(with D.J. Flynn, American Politics Research)

Scholars are increasingly interested in how partisan conflict in Congress affects public evaluations of institutional performance. Yet, existing research overlooks how the public responds to one of the most widely discussed consequences of partisan conflict: legislative gridlock. We develop expectations about how partisan conflict resulting in partisan wins, losses, and gridlock will affect evaluations of Congress, and how these relationships will differ across consensus and non-consensus issues. Results from two survey experiments indicate that partisan conflict resulting in a victory for one’s own party boosts approval relative to compromise, but conflict resulting in gridlock substantially damages approval. However, the degree to which gridlock decreases approval hinges on the type of policy under consideration. On consensus issues, citizens reward legislative action by either party—their party or the opposing party—over gridlock.

 

2016. American Politics Research 44(5): 845-902.

(Paper available here)

(Blog post based on this article available here)

(Online appendix available here)

 

Legislative Institutions as a Source of Party Leaders' Influence

(with Sarah E. Anderson and Daniel M. Butler, Legislative Studies Quarterly)

Legislators’ actions are influenced by party, constituency, and their own views, each weighted differently. Our survey of state legislators finds that legislator’s own views are the strongest influence. We also find that institutions are an important source of party leaders' influence. Legislators in states where members rely more on party leaders – states without term limits, with less professional legislatures, and where the majority party controls the agenda – put more weight on leaders’ preferences. Beyond direct party influence, the views of party leaders are preemptively incorporated into legislators’ preferences when the rules of the legislature make party leaders more powerful.

2016. Legislative Studies Quarterly 41(3): 605-631. DOI: 10.1111/lsq.12124

Formerly IPR Working Paper IPR-WP-14-24.

(Online First version available here.)

(Online appendix available here.)

Public Preferences for Bipartisanship in the Policymaking Process

(with Neil Malhotra and Brian F. Harrison, Legislative Studies Quarterly)

At a time of a high level of polarization in Congress, public opinion surveys routinely find that Americans want politicians to compromise. When evaluating legislation, does the preference for bipartisanship in the legislative process trump partisan identities? We find that it does not. We conduct two experiments in which we alter aspects of the political context to see how people respond to parties (not) coming together to achieve broadly popular public policy goals. Although citizens can recognize bipartisan processes, preferences for bipartisan legislating do not outweigh partisan desires in the evaluation of public policies.

2014. Legislative Studies Quarterly 39(3): 327-355.

Formerly IPR working paper (WP-13-01).

(Paper available here)

The Policy Consequences of Motivated Information Processing Among the Partisan Elite

(with Sarah Anderson, American Politics Research)

An analysis of U.S. budgetary changes shows that, among subaccounts that are cut, Democrats make more large cuts when they control more lawmaking institutions. This surprising finding is consistent with legislators who are subject to motivated reasoning. In an information rich world, they disproportionately respond to information in line with their bias unless they must make a large accuracy correction. This paper tests, for the first time, motivated information processing among legislators. It finds evidence that Democrats engage in motivated information processing and that the effects of it are felt more on social spending and in off-election years.

2014. American Politics Research 42(4): 700-728.

Formerly IPR working paper (WP-13-02)

(Online First version available here)

(Online appendix available here)

(Blog post based on this paper for the LSE American Politics and Policy website available here)

(Research News on this paper by the Institute for Policy Research available here)

Electoral Incentives and Partisan Conflict in Congress: Evidence from Survey Experiments

(with Neil Malhotra, American Journal of Political Science)

Does partisan conflict damage citizens' perceptions of Congress? If so, why has polarization increased in Congress since the 1970s? To address these questions, we unpack the "electoral connection" by exploring the mass public's attitudes towards partisan conflict via two survey experiments in which we manipulated characteristics of members and Congress. We find that party conflict reduces confidence in Congress among citizens across the partisan spectrum. However, there exists heterogeneity by strength of party identification with respect to evaluations of members. Independents and weak partisans are more supportive of members that espouse a bipartisan image, whereas strong partisans are less supportive. People with strong attachments to a political party disavow conflict in the aggregate but approve of individual members behaving in a partisan manner. This pattern helps us understand why members in safely partisan districts engage in partisan conflict even though partisanship damages the collective reputation of the institution.

2011. American Journal of Political Science 55(3): 494-510.

(Paper available here)

(Online appendix available here)

(Blog post based on this paper in the Monkey Cage available here)

Incrementalism in Appropriations: Small Aggregation, Big Changes

(with Sarah Anderson, Public Administration Review)

The stability of the U.S. federal budget, as a substantively important attribute and as an insight into the decision process of the legislature and bureaucracy, has led to a scholarly focus on incrementalism, defined by small year-to-year changes. However, what constitutes „small? has been largely left unspecified. Furthermore, previous research has been unable to assess incrementalism across multiple levels of aggregation. Using a unique budgetary database, we examine whether budgetary changes are in fact „small? at different levels of aggregation, finding that a surprisingly low proportion of the changes are actually small by any logical standard. Most years, more than twenty percent of budgetary changes are greater than fifty percent and nearly half are greater than ten percent. The level of aggregation is also important for assessing whether political variables influence incrementalism. We show that party control manifests in micro-level budget decisions, while divided government manifests in aggregate-level budget decisions.

2010. Public Administration Review 70(3): 464-474.

(Paper available here)

 

Book Chapters and Other Publications

Presidential Approval and Gas Prices: Sociotropic or Pocketbook Influence?

(with Jon Krosnick and Jeffrey M. Wooldridge, New Explorations in Political Psychology)

Forthcoming. New Explorations in Political Psychology. Ed. Krosnick, Jon. New York: Psychology Press (Taylor and Francis Group).

The 2008 Democratic Shift

(with David Brady and Douglas Rivers. 2008. Policy Review. Hoover Institution, No. 152)

Polarization and Public Policy: A General Assessment

(with David Brady and John Ferejohn. 2008. In Red and Blue Nation? Consequences and Correction of America's Polarized Politics, Vol II. Ed. Pietro S. Nivola and David W. Brady. Washington D.C.: Brookings Institution Press)

 

Working Papers

The Rejection of Common Ground Politics

(with Sarah E. Anderson and Daniel M. Butler)

Many complaints about the impediments to legislative action at the federal and state levels focus on a lack of common ground among polarized legislators. But even when common ground in possible, there is no guarantee that elected officials will accept a compromise that would move policy forward. Legislators may still reject “half a loaf” and produce gridlock in the process. In work with Sarah Anderson of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Bren School and Daniel Butler of the University of California San Diego, Harbridge Yong examines why some legislators reject compromise. The goal of this research is 1) to identify whether and how often elected officials’ refusal to compromise goes beyond a lack of common ground, 2) to explore why this might happen, and 3) to assess potential solutions to this problem. Using a combination of experimental and observational data, Harbridge Yong and her co-authors explore how often legislators reject common ground proposals that make them better off and examine the factors that explain this behavior. In two experimental studies – one of state legislators and one of elected city officials – they find that roughly a quarter of officials reject common ground compromises. Their findings point to fear of voter retribution as a driver of opposition to compromise, and to the primary electorate in particular.  

 

(IPR Working Paper IPR-WP-14-21 focuses on one portion of this project)

 

Passing the Buck in Congress: The Extent and Effectiveness of Blaming Others for Inaction

(with David Doherty)

 

Many perspectives of representative democracy assume that voters will hold elected officials accountable when their behavior falls short of expectations. Given widespread public frustration with gridlock, legislators should have incentives to reach agreements. However, gridlock persists. One explanation for this pattern may be that legislators can avoid penalties for inaction by shifting blame to other actors, leaving voters unsure about who to penalize for aggregate outcomes like gridlock. In work with David Doherty at Loyola University Chicago, Harbridge Yong utilizes content analysis of legislators’ communications with constituents, as well as a series of survey experiments to assess how members explain gridlock and whether they can avoid voter penalties by passing the buck. This work has important implications for our understanding of the extent to which the separation of powers system provides representatives with a way to avoid electoral punishment by deflecting blame, and how party and institutional reputations can be affected by this type of behavior.

 

IPR Working Paper IPR-WP-17-14