September 30, 2015

The Effects of Congressional Staff Networks in the U.S. House of Representatives

Standard accounts of congressional behavior treat legislators as individuals whose actions are the result of the interaction of member-specific characteristics and institutional factors. However, members of Congress do not act alone but instead depend on teams of professional staffers who are intimately involved in every aspect of the institution. In this paper, we use a novel dataset of comprehensive longitudinal employment records from the U.S. House of Representatives to show that Congressional staff -- whose careers often cross multiple offices -- help disseminate legislative expertise within parties and develop and reinforce the voting patterns of legislators. Specifically, results from a series of heteroskedastic Bayesian spatial autoregressive models indicate that legislators who exchange important staff members across congresses are more similar in their legislative effectiveness and voting patterns than we would otherwise expect. These findings suggest that staff play a key role in the ``extended party networks'' of the contemporary era.

Forthcoming at the Journal of Politics. With Brendan Nyhan.
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