Who are the Most Effective Legislators in Congress?

Craig Volden, University of Virginia, Alan E. Wiseman, Vanderbilt University

Two SSN scholars have used decades of data to rank the legislative prowess of U.S. Representatives, finding that persistence and a willingness to reach across the aisle pay off.

Some U.S. lawmakers are show-horses and others are work-horses. Using a detailed and sophisticated new scoring system, Volden and Wiseman help us tell who is effective at moving legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. Their Key Findings brief features major findings from their newly published book, Legislative Effectiveness in the United States Congress: The Lawmakers (Cambridge University Press). A companion website makes it easy for constituents, journalists, and others to find data on individual representatives.

Volden and Wiseman explore in depth the various factors that make some elected representatives much more effective than others at shepherding bills through the legislative process. For example, women often make more effective lawmakers than men, especially when they are in the minority party. Women tend to be more adept at across-the-aisle consensus building, a critical component of effective legislating.

In an article recently published by UVA Today, the newspaper of the University of Virginia, Volden and Wiseman offer practical tips for lawmakers. To become effective legislators, they should cultivate a legislative portfolio that builds on their personal interests and experience, reach out to build coalitions, and focus on issues of special importance to their constituents.

Volden and Wiseman’s research has been widely covered in national media outlets such as the New York Times and MSNBC. State and local outlets like the Austin American-Statesman, Lake News, and the Springfield News-Leader have also written about the scholars’ rankings to assess the effectiveness – or ineffectiveness – of many of the lawmakers representing their readers.

Craig Volden is Professor of Public Policy and Politics at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. In addition to his work on the effectiveness of U.S. legislators, Volden studies the ways in which state, local, and national governments can learn from one another’s experiences with various public policies. He has advised governments in the United States and abroad, on various issues including ways to devise effective policies to limit consumption of sugary beverages.

Alan E. Wiseman is Associate Professor of Political Science and Law (by Courtesy) at Vanderbilt University. His research focuses on the impact of political institutions, including bureaucracies and legislatures, on the behavior and strategies of political actors. In addition to studying legislators’ effectiveness, he has done research on the politics and economics of alcohol regulation.

Together, Volden and Wiseman direct the ongoing Legislative Effectiveness Project and they have undertaken a series of additional research projects related to their new book and website.

October 2014