Yes, it does.
That’s the conclusion of an important new study by two political scientists who used The Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index to see whether lawmakers who reach across the aisle are better able to get their bills through the legislative process.
The two experts, Craig Volden of the University of Virginia and Alan E. Wiseman of Vanderbilt, found that “bipartisan legislators tend to be more effective. Moreover, bipartisanship helps even the strongly ideological members you’d least expect to work across party lines.”
To determine how effective a Representative is, the two constructed a Legislative Effectiveness Score for each Member based on how much success he or she has in moving bills through the House, from introduction to committee action to floor action to final passage, as well as how important the legislation is.
Next, they compared those results with the lawmakers’ scores on The Lugar Center’s Bipartisan Index, which measures the frequency with which a Member co-sponsors a bill introduced by the opposite party and the frequency with which a Member’s own bills attract co-sponsors from the opposite party.
Unlike many other legislative measures which rely on voting records, TLC’s Bipartisan Index, developed with the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown, is based on activity at the beginning of the legislative process. As Sen. Lugar explained when introducing the Index, this “allowed us to construct a highly objective measure of partisan and bipartisan behavior.
“Second, sponsorship and co-sponsorship behavior is especially revealing of partisan tendencies. Members’ voting decisions are often contextual and can be influenced by parliamentary circumstances. Sponsorships and co-sponsorships, in contrast, exist as very carefully considered declarations of where a legislator stands on an issue.”
Being bipartisan does not mean being a moderate. Lawmakers who are solidly conservative or liberal can still act in a bipartisan way to achieve their legislative goals. Earlier, we found that many House members who live in deeply partisan districts have worked with members of the other party to introduce and co-sponsor bipartisan legislation.
The new study by Volden and Wiseman takes this a step further and shows that bipartisan lawmakers are better at getting things done. Legislators who score well in the Bipartisan Index “are indeed more effective,” they wrote. “This means that a bipartisan lawmaker will push a larger legislative portfolio further through the lawmaking process. This is true even after accounting for other factors that also impact effectiveness, such as whether a member is in the majority party, head of a committee or subcommittee, or more senior.”
Of course, in today’s polarized Congress, bipartisanship may be more difficult to achieve. But it’s worth the effort, they say. Somewhat surprisingly, “we have found that bipartisanship is actually a more effective strategy now than in the past,” they conclude. “Of course, polarization means that legislators are less bipartisan now than previously, which means that bipartisanship takes more effort. But for those interested in advancing legislation to address America’s pressing problems, bipartisanship offers a good return on that investment.”
TLC created the Bipartisan Index to encourage members to work across the aisle and ease the partisan gridlock that has paralyzed decision-making in Washington. We were pleased that a number of political commentators and many candidates themselves cited the Index’s scores and rankings during last year’s primaries and elections. We hope this means that voters, who have given Congress record-low approval ratings in recent years, are looking for candidates who will place a priority on governing rather than posturing. These new findings should give voters who are tired of the gridlock another reason to support bipartisan candidates, because they will be more effective legislators. And they should give lawmakers an incentive to act in a more bipartisan way, because they will able to see more of their priorities enacted into law.
Jay Branegan is a Senior Fellow at The Lugar Center.