Productive Politicians Fare Better in Primaries

Now that Super Tuesday is behind us, voters can look forward to another primary in the spring – this time for Congressional candidates. 

At the University of Virginia, a team of scholars has studied what factors make for a successful candidate and drawn some conclusions about this state’s congressional delegation.

As a professor of public policy and politics at the Batten School and co-director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking, Craig Volden and his team spend a lot of time crunching numbers – trying to figure out which members of Congress take care of business in Washington.

“We combine 15 metrics based on the bills they sponsor – how far those bills move through the lawmaking process and how important they are," he says. "There’s a tiny increase in our scores based on naming of a post office and a much larger one based on tackling the major issues of the day.”

And – going back decades – they’ve looked to see who got re-elected.

“For the fall elections, the general elections, there seems to be no pattern whatsoever.  Effective and ineffective legislators are getting re-elected at about the same rate, but in the primaries coming up this spring we find a different story. Effective lawmakers do scare away primary challengers,” Volden explains.

And how are Virginia’s current members of congress doing when it comes to getting things done?  The longest-serving of them – Morgan Griffith – gets top grades for achieving his goals, but three newcomers are just getting started. 

Democrat Abby Spanberger is expected to face a strong challenge in the general election, but not in the primary.

“She seems to be hitting the ground running, is at this point unopposed within her party and going to be strongly contested at the general election in the fall,” says Volden.

Ben Cline has sponsored only three bills, but one of them (The Small Business Reorganization Act of 2019) made it through the legislative process and became law -- marking a rare achievement for a freshman in the minority party. Volden says Republican Denver Riggleman has also been fairly effective.

“He’s put forward about a dozen bills, many of them receiving action in committee, which is uncommon for freshmen in the minority party and one that has already passed the house, so he seems to be at least starting to build up a legislative record.”

Their scores will be posted when the current congressional session ends.  Others are ranked at thelawmakers.org.

Listen to the full interview with Craig Volden on WVTF.

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