This newly conventional wisdom, that women in Congress are better at getting things done than men because they know how to compromise across the aisle, first arose when a bipartisan group of female Senators led the effort to end the government shutdown in October, 2013.
So are women in Congress more bipartisan than men? The Lugar Center publishes a Bipartisan Index that ranks each Senator and Representative on how bipartisan they are based on bill sponsorship and co-sponsorship. The more often Member introduces a bill that attracts co-sponsors from the other party, or the more often the Member co-sponsors a bill from the other side, the higher the bipartisan ranking.
A quick glance at some of the Index results might seem to bolster the case that women are more bipartisan. For instance, in the 113th Congress, three of the top seven Senators in the Bipartisan Index are women: Republicans Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Similarly, on the Index rankings for the House in 2015, three of the top nine are women: Kyrsten Sinema (D, Az.), Gwen Graham (D, Fla.), and Amata Radewagen, Republican from American Samoa. (Women comprise 20 percent of the Senate membership, and 19.4 percent of the House.)
But the Brookings Institution recently published in its FixGov blog a deeper dive into the data by two experts, Jennifer Lawless of American University and Sean Theriault from the University of Texas at Austin. They looked at several different ways to measure bipartisanship in Congress, including TLC’s Bipartisan Index. Here’s what they found:
“Here, we rely on the Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index, which scores senators—dating back to 1993 —on the extent to which they cross party lines when signing onto colleagues’ bills, or attracting support for their own. Democratic women and men are statistically indistinguishable from one another, as are their GOP colleagues. The Lugar Center doesn’t have data for the House, except for the 113th Congress. But the results from that lone Congress certainly don’t help the conventional wisdom. Republican women and men’s scores don’t differ. Among Democrats, though, women are actually less bipartisan than men.”
The other three measures they looked at---the number of bipartisan overseas trips, voting patterns on procedural votes, and the use of amendments as delaying tactics—likewise showed no pattern of more cooperative behavior by women than men in Congress. See the full Brookings report here.
The two scholars emphasize that despite their null finding on women and bipartisanship, “In no way are we suggesting that electing more women doesn’t make a difference.” Among other things, they say studies show women are better at delivering federal funds to their districts and are more likely than men to contribute to a collegial work environment.
Incidentally, the Brookings blog was the second time this month that academics have utilized the Bipartisan Index, which TLC developed with the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown. Experts at U.Va.’s Legislative Effectiveness Project said a preliminary analysis of Bipartisan Index data shows that legislators who rank highest on the index are also the most effective in getting legislation through Congress. If this holds up after a deeper look at the data, that would be a strong indicator that bipartisanship can produce results in Congress. We will keep you posted.
Jay Branegan is a Senior Fellow at The Lugar Center.