Female lawmakers in Congress tend to be more effective at moving bills, while men are more often stumbling blocks, according to a new study.
On average, female members tended to get more done legislatively than men, and that’s even more pronounced when they are in the party out of power in the House, when men become even less cooperative, according to a study released Tuesday by two academics who tried to calculate legislative effectiveness of all members of the House.
“When we looked at minority party women, they tended to continue to push their policy goals, tended to continue to reach across party lines to build coalitions and were more likely to make laws based on that,” said Craig Volden, professor of public policy and politics at the University of Virginia. “Men, on average, tended to move more to an obstructionist position when in the minority party.”
Mr. Volden and Alan Wiseman, an associate professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, graded members of the House based on how many bills they introduced, how significant the legislation was and how far each bill made it in the legislative process. The website compares lawmakers’ effectiveness to a benchmark score based on seniority, committee leadership positions and whether or not their party holds the majority.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. was the most effective Democrat in the House during the 112th Congress, while Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas was the top-ranking Republican in the study. Both served as the top lawmakers in their respective parties for the House Judiciary Committee.
The most effective lawmakers focused on the needs of their district, built a broad set of allies across parties, were open to compromise and used positions of power wisely — for example, introducing legislation that would fall under a committee of which they were chair, Mr. Volden said. They also often had a policy agenda that had personal meaning to them.
His research also showed that lawmakers who did well as freshmen were usually successful later on too, and often go on to seek higher office such as a governorship or a Senate seat. Those who are less effective than the average member tend to become frustrated and choose not to run for re-election within 10 years.
The model does have its shortcomings, and a low effectiveness score doesn’t necessarily mean a lawmaker can’t get things done. The website does not look at things like involvement in oversight, working to help others’ bills pass, blocking proposals or serving in a leadership position where you wouldn’t be introducing legislation, the website said. For example, House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, has a low effectiveness score despite being a key gatekeeper of what bills come to the House floor.
Though they chose to release the results ahead of the election, Mr. Volden also acknowledged that some voters may not find the data helpful in evaluating their member of Congress.
“What do you want your member of Congress to do? Some people want their member of Congress to obstruct, to bring down big government at present, to vote on the floor of the House in a manner consistent with what the values of the district are,” he said. “What we’re arguing is some voters might care about those who can advance an agenda and maybe advance an agenda on behalf of the district.”
The full findings are available at www.thelawmakers.org and will be further explored in a book, “Legislative Effectiveness in the United States Congress: The Lawmakers,” due out later this month.