Institutional Development and Participation on House Roll-Call Votes, 1819–1921

Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211017991
We argue in this article that the calculus of roll-call par-
ticipation is shaped and influenced by changes in legisla-
tive and electoral institutions and practices and that this
is observable in the variation in abstention rates across
representatives and over time.1 Specifically, we seek to
assess the causal significance of electoral, legislative,
and partisan institutions across multiple periods of sig-
nificant institutional development in the U.S. House of
Representatives. Although some nonvoting in the 19th
century House arose due to idiosyncratic and nonpoliti-
cal factors like illness, drunkenness, and apathy, differ-
ences across members and over time suggest systematic
patterns of nonparticipation associated with those peri-
ods of development.
The article proceeds as follows. First, we consider
institutional changes in the 19th century House of
Representatives that likely affected the calculus of vot-
ing for members. The list, though not exhaustive, does
suggest three broad eras for considering their participa-
tion choices. Second, we provide an overview of the
contours of House roll-call participation from 1819 to
1921. Third, we model individual-level roll-call partici-
pation rates across the century to understand the magni-
tude of the systematic components of nonvoting.2
Together, the results suggest that members were respon-
sive to institutional change, but that the standard mark-
ers of modernizing House institutions—notably the
adoption of the Reed Rules and the emergence of the
Australian ballot—resulted only in modest shifts in the
roll-call participation of Representatives.
Institutional Development and
Legislative Behavior
Between the late 1810s and 1910, the U.S. House of
Representatives adopted most of the institutional features
that define it today. By around 1820, the House moved
decisively to rely on standing committees as engines of
policymaking (Jenkins 1998). In 1837, members were
able to introduce bills under their own names (Cooper
and Young 1989), opening the door to the kind of position
17991PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211017991Political Research QuarterlyBaughman and Nokken
1Bates College, Lewiston, ME, USA
2Texas Tech University, Lubbock, USA
Corresponding Author:
Timothy P. Nokken, Department of Political Science, Texas Tech
University, Lubbock, TX 79409-1015, USA.
Institutional Development and
Participation on House Roll-Call Votes,
John Baughman1 and Timothy P. Nokken2
An emerging body of literature seeks to understand the determinants of roll-call participation in the early U.S. House
of Representatives. A multitude of factors—electoral, institutional, and partisan—exerted significant influence over
members’ participation decisions during the time we analyze. We analyze roll-call abstention rates from the 16th to
66th Congress (1819 to 1921) to determine whether electorally at-risk members differed in their attentiveness to
their congressional responsibilities than members who faced less or no risk. By examining a century of congresses, we
compare both the post-Civil War era immediately prior to adoption of the Australian ballot as well as the pre-Civil
War congresses to identify those factors that affected members’ decision to participate on roll-call votes. The time
series encompasses important electoral and institutional reforms, including the emergence of strong party caucuses
and the enhanced agenda setting prerogatives of the majority party. Our results show that members responded to
changes in the political environment, including to electoral concerns, and this effect is present prior to the Civil War.
We also find that during the era of the strong Speaker, majority party members significantly increased their roll-call
participation rates.
legislative politics, roll-call voting, roll-call participation
2022, Vol. 75(3) 646–660

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