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 at the University of Virginia, with appointments in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy and the Department of Politics. He studies the politics of public policy, with a focus on what policy choices arise within legislative institutions and within American federalism. He is founder and co-director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking. Read full bio Sarah Treul Alan E. Wiseman Danielle M. Thomsen Related Content Craig Volden Legislative Effectiveness, Progressive Ambition, and Electoral Success Research Are effective state lawmakers more likely than ineffective state lawmakers to be elected to Congress? Our findings offer important insights into how American federalism contributes to representation by effective lawmakers. 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. Effective Lawmaking in Virginia: Past, Present and Future News This week’s Batten Hour featured Bill Howell, former Speaker of the House of Delegates, and David Toscano, former House Minority Leader, in a discussion about how the legislature is addressing past, present and future policy challenges. Their discussion was moderated by Craig Volden, professor of public policy and politics and co-director of the Center for Effective Lawmaking. Improving Expertise of Congressional Staff News In an op-ed published in The Messenger, Craig Volden and Alan E. Wiseman of the Center for Effective Lawmaking write that without proper career training for congressional staffers, expertise gaps on Capitol Hill will continue to be problematic.