Roll-Call Vote Selection: Implications for the Study of Legislative Politics

Abstract: Roll-call votes provide scholars with the opportunity to measure many quantities of interest. However, the usefulness of the roll-call sample depends on the population it is intended to represent. After laying out why understanding the sample properties of the roll-call record is important, we catalogue voting procedures for 145 legislative chambers, finding that roll calls are typically discretionary. We then consider two arguments for discounting the potential problem: (a) roll calls are ubiquitous, especially where the threshold for invoking them is low or (b) the strategic incentives behind requests are sufficiently benign so as to generate representative samples. We address the first defense with novel empirical evidence regarding roll-call prevalence and the second with an original formal model of the position-taking argument for roll-call vote requests. Both our empirical and theoretical results confirm that inattention to vote method selection should broadly be considered an issue for the study of legislative behavior.

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License CC BY
Type Journal Articles
C-ID POLS 110 - American
Pedagogical Note Yes


Pedagogical Note

I have assigned this article to my 1st and 2nd year students in an Introduction to American Government course.

This is one of three articles students are asked to analyze by identifying 11 parts: title, main point, question, puzzle, debate, theory, hypotheses, empirical analysis, policy implications, and contribution to the discipline, and future research. And writing out the research design using notation.

I like this article because: effectively introduces roll-call votes in an American and comparative context; demonstrates how scholars discuss measurement of concepts; and offers exposure to a formal model.

Feedback from my students is mixed: they don’t like how this article does not follow the format of the journal article analysis I assign, but they do appreciate learning about the complexities of the legislative voting process. Table 1 on voting procedures in different country legislatures and Figure 3 on party cohesion were understandable.

I would assign this article to students in lower-division Research Methods course demonstrating measurement of concepts, and upper-division Congressional Politics, Legislative Politics, or Research Methods courses.

1 year ago

Review Roll-Call Vote Selection: Implications for the Study of Legislative Politics.