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Legislative Style

Once elected, members of Congress face difficult decisions about how to allocate their time and effort. On which issues should they focus? What is the right balance between working in one’s district and on Capitol Hill? How much should they engage with the media to cultivate a national reputation? William Bernhard and Tracy Sulkin argue that these decisions and others define a “legislative style” that aligns with a legislator’s ambitions, experiences, and personal inclinations, as well as any significant electoral and institutional constraints.

Bernhard and Sulkin have developed a systematic approach for looking at legislative style through a variety of criteria, including the number of the bills passed, number of speeches given, amount of money raised, and the percentage of time a legislator voted in line with his or her party. Applying this to ten congresses, representing twenty years of congressional data, from 1989 to 2009, they reveal that legislators’ activity falls within five predictable styles. These styles remain relatively consistent throughout legislators’ time in office, though a legislator’s style can change as career goals evolve, as well as with changes to individual or larger political interests, as in redistricting or a majority shift. Offering insight into a number of enduring questions in legislative politics, Legislative Style is a rich and nuanced account of legislators’ activity on Capitol Hill.

272 pages | 36 line drawings, 26 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Chicago Studies in American Politics

Political Science: American Government and Politics


“Bernhard and Sulkin’s concept of legislative style is a quantum leap beyond what other scholars have done in its careful construction and enormous explanatory power. It will have a real impact on how people view Congress and its members and how congressional scholars think about and analyze the institution.”

William Bianco, Indiana University

"This terrific book explores the important topic of the legislative styles of individual members of Congress. More important, the book explores how those styles have changed and how they impact Congress as an institution...The framework, quantitative findings, and interesting case examples illuminate many areas of congressional behavior, from the individual basis of elections and legislation, to the old legislative tradeoff between representation and responsivenes."

Congress and the Presidency

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Legislative Style and Congressional Careers

Chapter 2. Measuring Legislative Style

with Daniel Sewell

Chapter 3. The Styles

Chapter 4. Explaining Freshman Styles

Chapter 5. Transitions in Style

Chapter 6. The Electoral Consequences of Legislative Style

Chapter 7. Styles, Lawmaking, and Legislative Success

Chapter 8. Career Advancement and Legislative Styles

Chapter 9. Legislative Styles and Evaluations of Congress

Works Cited


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

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