Faculty & Research The Primary Path for Turning Legislative Effectiveness into Electoral Success Jun 21, 2022 By Craig VoldenSarah TreulAlan E. WisemanDanielle M. Thomsen The Primary Path for Turning Legislative Effectiveness into Electoral Success Effective lawmakers are the workhorses of the US Congress, yet we know little about the electoral payoffs of their efforts. Are effective lawmakers better at warding off challengers in the next election? Do they win at a greater rate? To answer these questions, we draw on original data on congressional primary elections from 1980 to 2016, allowing us to focus on elections that lack partisan cues and where voters tend to be highly knowledgeable about politics. We find that incumbents receive an electoral boost in congressional primaries from their legislative work in Congress. Ineffective lawmakers are more likely to face quality challengers, and they lose their primaries at a greater rate than do more effective lawmakers. These differences diminish in the complex informational environment of a primary with multiple challengers. These findings provide important insights into the conditions under which voters hold their elected representatives accountable for their legislative successes and failures. Link to Paper Areas of focus Political Science UVA partners Center for Effective Lawmaking Craig Volden Craig Volden is a professor of public policy and politics, with appointments in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics. Volden is also the Co-Director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking. He studies legislative politics and the interaction among political institutions, including within American federalism. Read full bio Sarah Treul Alan E. Wiseman Danielle M. Thomsen Related Content Craig Volden Spatial Models of Legislative Effectiveness Research Spatial models of policymaking have evolved from the median voter theorem through the inclusion of institutional considerations such as political parties, committees, and various voting and amendment rules. Such models, however, implicitly assume that no policy is more effective than another at solving public policy problems and that all proposers are equally capable of advancing proposals. Party Calls and Reelection in the US Senate Research Minozzi and Volden advance the idea that a substantial portion of partisan voting activity in Congress is a simple call to unity that is especially easily embraced by ideological extremists. If correct, Minozzi and Volden’s findings should extend from the House to the Senate, despite differences in institutional structures and in tools at the disposal of party leaders across the two chambers. Research: Congressional town halls signal and support effective lawmaking News In an article for The Hill, Batten's Craig Volden and co-author Alan E. Wiseman write that Representatives and Senators who engage constituents through town halls can enhance their lawmaking effectiveness in Congress. Volden Wins Honor for Paper That Highlights How Women Policymakers Thrive News Batten's Craig Volden and co-author Rachel Augustine Potter were recognized for their research exploring the effectiveness of female agency leaders. They discuss the "glass walls" effect and the potential implications of their findings.