Dissertation

Although representatives devote a substantial amount of resources to developing their relative social status in the legislature, scholars of legislative behavior largely focus on the explicit, formal powers awarded to high-status officeholders. However, these legislators also hold a substantial number of implicit and informal powers as a result of their status, which they use in addition to their formal authority to affect political ends. My dissertation defines the concept of influence as an informal means by which legislators are able to shape the actions and decisions of their colleagues simply by expressing their own preferences. This research explores the latent hierarchal network through which influence is exercised by examining its role and scope in legislative decisions as well as its value to constituent representation. By looking at both patterns across both state and federal legislatures, this project will comprehensively explore the topic of influence and its role in American policymaking. This project contributes to an important and underdeveloped topic in American politics by advancing three primary research questions: (1) How do behaviors diffuse across legislators embedded in political networks?, (2) To what extent are these influence networks responsive to institutional arrangements, and how do they affect legislators’ policy responsiveness?, (3) How valuable is a legislator’s institutional status to constituents? 

This project will be executed to achieve three substantive goals. First, it will define the structure of influence networks in a variety of legislative contexts using temporal cosponsorship data from nine state legislatures – Alaska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wisconsin – as well as ten sessions of U.S. Congress. Second, using the resulting networks, it will examine the impacts of various state and chamber-level institutions to determine their effects on the structure of the influence hierarchy and their implications for policy responsiveness. The final part of the project will use a survey experiment to assess the value of influential representation to constituents.